Ruth Mylroie and New Harmony Farm


I had the greatest pleasure spending time yesterday with Ruth Mylroie at New Harmony Farm. I just love being around contented chickens and around farmers that take such pride in looking after animals the right way. If I was a chicken, I’d want Ruth as my mother. No question. As far as chicken life goes, I don’t think it gets better than this and this includes wild chickens. They wouldn’t be as well fed, as protected or as nurtured as they are with Ruth.
The end result of this kind of dedicated farming from a woman just passionate about living life the right way and doing things honourably is an egg that great restaurants clamour for. This egg is straight out of ‘the olden days’. I split 1 in a pan this morning, I’ve added the picture in the gallery above for you to see, the colour and size of the yolks is something to behold.
The yolk takes up much of the size of the egg.
To connect that to the quality of life I saw yesterday with her chickens is sacred. And it’s the highest form of intelligence in my opinion. Treat an animal well, respect its right to a good life being just what it is, feed it well, give it access to great outdoor space and the right to exercise its natural behaviour and it gives you deep nutrition. In the partnership between man and animal that helps both evolve, when it is done respectfully, man gives animal protection against the elements and guaranteed feed and in return animals give us deep nutrition.
Jackals in the area are just one of the real threats that face South African chickens especially. They have to be secure inside a barn at night to be protected from theft, a terrible reality for chicken farmers and attacks from surrounding predators. During the day, the chickens run out and the area is protected by Ruth’s dogs, who leave the chickens alone which I found too sweet. The Jack Russell does pop in to the barns to inspect for rats and there isn’t so much as a worried squark from them. There is something about contented chickens, similar to contented cows, it’s just so peaceful to be amongst them and quite the contrary if they are upset, they get very uppity and verbal and ‘squarky’ (new word for the English dictionary). The only time I heard squarking yesterday was by one of the mums who was very annoyed at having her warm eggs taken. We apologised profusely!
Ruth dedicates the greatest part of her day to looking after those chickens. She doesn’t even use staff to help, other than to help clean out the barns, once a week, everything else she does herself. She is steadfast and true and solid in her connection to life, soil and her farm and uncompromising in her standards. The end result of that is one of the greatest spaces for chickens I’ve seen and production of eggs that are superior in form, taste and structure.
We watched the birds yesterday inside the barn, just clucking about being chickens. Then going outdoors and scratching about for mielies at lunch-time. Inside the barn, there are feed bins that contain a chicken feed made up especially for Ruth that does not contain any antibiotics or growth hormones, it is unlikely this is 100% gm free, it’s just too tough to get hold of it in constant supply at this point.
Then they have mielies at lunch-time and then they go and dust-bath. It’s just the most pleasing thing to watch, the routine and nature of a chicken. We watched them dust bathing under one particular spot, where Ruth puts down ash and diatomacious earth that is a natural deterrant for fleas and worms and pests for them. They fluff about in the dust because that’s just what chickens do and then they get up and wander about, most hens following their favourite Rooster, too sweet to watch and then many of them walk back through the flap into the barn for an afternoon siesta! I want to be a chicken! Ruth says they just do this everyday. She has perches from them in there and they clamber up and tuck their little legs underneath them and snooze. Bless them.
Ruth grows organic greens for them too, see a picture in the gallery, when the greens are at the right height, a section gets opened and the chickens dive in and uproot it all and feast on them.
If they want to lay eggs, there are many laying boxes for them to choose, they look so cosy I almost wished I could climb into one for a snooze.
Apparently Ruth says there is usually a ‘flavour of the day’ roosting box that they all want for strange reason. In yesterday’s flavour of the day box, we saw 2 stubborn hens practically lying on top of each other, neither willing to compromise and find a different box. I’d probably be one of those. There are also some ‘rebels’ that find a way to fly outside and to the front room because they want to lay their eggs for reasons best known to themselves in the bags of sunflower husks that Ruth uses as flooring! Actually I’d be that hen.
That said, I must tell you how clean it smells in the barns. It smells of fresh saw dust really, even though it’s a floor of sunflower husks which Ruth finds the best flooring for chickens.
It’s just all so peaceful. I didn’t want to leave. I found myself being lulled into a deeply relaxed  and contemplative space chatting with Ruth and Gary on her patio afterwards eating scones that are yellow rather than white because of her eggs. That is always the gift that a great farm offers. They plug you into the sense and cycle of nature. Life makes sense on a farm. Life on a farm is a daily mediation on our partnership with nature.
Good farmers are my favourite people in the world because they are connected to this sense.
We are desperate to remember this connection in the city and it’s our relationship with food ironically that is the most powerful place to connect to the nourishment that nature provides.
When I contrast how chickens are raised on a farm like Ruth’s and like Mandy’s, to the conventional battery farms I saw too many of yesterday on the drive down , I feel such a deep pressure in my belly. It manifests as a great sense of responsibility born of love.
Factory farming is one of the most heinous assaults on man’s relationship to life and to nature. Animals should not be abused for our nutrition and you cannot get great nutrition from an animal raised that way. You are buying into abuse and a total lack of respect for the life of an stressed, unhappy and poorly nourished animal and a blatant ignorance of what our partnership with animals is meant to look like by  nature’s design.
It’s a calling for me to link us to great farmers and to get the cruelty of the factory farm out of the picture, one choice at a time. That so many people, most in cities, cannot and aren’t able to connect what they’re eating to a real farm, is tragic for me. As tragic as too many farmers who can’t link their produce to a real consumer as it gets lost in the anonymity of a conventional retailers distribution centre.
The tragedy doesn’t just play out in an ongoing decline in our health, struggling immune systems, raised antibodies, raised histamines, bodies struck with a constant onslaught of chemical toxicity in a soil-less and soul-less city dependant on corporations and factories for fake nutrition and slow incessant poisoning.
It also plays out in the battle people in modern western life have with finding meaning to life.
I have never met a good farmer who wonders about why he is here. He or she knows, every single day that they are connected to something larger, it is there ability to interact with nature respectfully that is the success and beauty of their farms. Their healing happens in the day to day dance between themselves and the elements.
So I always leave farmers like Ruth feeling contented and frustrated and somewhat emotional.
I leave knowing that somehow, some way, we have to see the return of the traditional, natural, responsible, upstanding farmer.
We have to get the consumer to understand the universe of a difference they make between choosing that farmer’s egg over a battery egg.
We have to reconnect to the soil and invest in her fertility. I always drive back to the city with memories of the beauty I’ve seen in the farm awash all over me as I drive back into our commercial reality of the chain stores. Where everybody is buying food from factory farms, conventional farms, food from conveyor belts out of factories laden with chemical props, a mass of consumers many of which have never tasted the delight of a fresh, farm egg.
I feel the gap and I know the work before us is huge, the road is long, uncertain and windy ,it’s a long road home from the ravages of the industrial revolution.  But this is what the Jozi Real Food Revolution is about, getting more and more produce from farms like this into the cities and voting for these sacred custodians of the earth. Because that is what a good farmer is and that is Ruth Mylroie and I’m blessed to have met her and feel hope for the future when I see a small, passionate farmer like her, doing it right.
And when I crack open an egg of that calibre into my city kitchen in the morning and I think back to her farm and I remember her and I picture the chickens and I smile, and I’m connected. To life, To sense and deeply, deeply nourished.
I want that for you. This is why I do what I do.
 

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