Bradley Cramer processing chickens he raised at Schmidt Family Farms in Medina, Ohio. His dad, behind him scalding birds, helps./All photos are by me and my iPhone.

What follows is an example of the best of all possible processed foods.

In an effort to be better connected with the food I eat, I visited the Schmidt Family Farms in Medina, Ohio. It’s managed by Susan Schmidt, whose specialty is honey. She gave me some of her good stuff and it’s the best honey I’ve ever tasted. By far. Tastes like the actual wildflowers around her home.

Susan’s farm is organic. She gives Bradley Cramer, who works in a music store in Medina, a small part of it to raise chickens on during the summer. (“People don’t realize that chicken is a seasonal food,” he told me.) He keeps them in large hoop cages that he wheels around the pasture every day so they have fresh bugs and stuff to eat. He tried letting them run outside the cage but too many were getting eaten by hawks.

The following video, which I shot with my iPhone, shows the process of taking a chicken from feathers to cookable. The photos below the video show each part of the process, including the killing and bleeding (so don’t scroll down if you’re squeamish). What was special about the day I visited (with Vivian Goodman, a reporter for WKSU, an NPR affiliate) was that Bradley was training Burmese refugees who have been relocated to this part of Ohio. They’re hoping to become farmers themselves. This is how small-scale, sustainable farming can spread.

I also participated in killing and eviscerating a chicken so that I would know how it felt. It wasn’t fun, but it was deeply instructive.

The breed is called Cornish Cross. Bradley says the speed at which they grow, from hatched to dispatched in 6.5 weeks, is too fast. If he were to wait one more week, he’d be selling six-pounders rather than four-pounders (he charges $3.75 per pound, better than most Bell & Evans). They grow so fast they don’t have time to start reproducing. This is part of the American need for fast food that even Bradley is kind of hamstrung by. One thing at a time, though.

Chickens at 2 weeks, soon to go out on pasture.

Cramer and the cage that protects the chicks from hawks but allows them to graze.

Where the processing happens. Because he processes fewer than 1,000 birds a year, Bradley does not have to adhere to government regulations, which typically don't allow for fresh processing.

The chickens are put head-down into the funnel. They flutter and flap going in, but once they're inside they seem to grow disoriented and don't move or struggle.

To kill the chicken, you pinch the craw and windpipe, slide a knife vertically through the neck behind them, turn the knife 90 degrees, and cut the main arteries. They immediately bleed out. As I said, it's not fun to do, but it is over very quickly.

The birds are scalded and put in the defeathering spinner shown in the video; they're then moved to the processing line. Vivian Goodman of WKSU radio interviews a Burmese refugee who has been relocated to Ohio.

Head and legs are removed, then the viscera.

 

They're chilled first in ice-cold water, then moved into an ice bath where they are quickly brought to below 40 degrees.

 

Thanks, Bradley, for helping to educate me on the life and death some of the food we eat.

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© 2012 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2012 Donna Turner-Ruhlman. All rights reserved.