After three weeks of expeditions, the Permaculture Research Team is finally all back together and busy preparing for Parents Weekend, which begins this week. As a part of the Permaculture Team’s Parents Weekend presentation, the group has planned a meal of all locally sourced food. In addition to serving our growing vegetables, the meal will also feature meat from animals raised on The Island School farm. As animals hold a vital role in agricultural systems, it was deemed necessary that the Permaculture Team should have the unique experience of being a part of the harvesting process of tilapia, ducks and a pig.

The Island School’s permaculture technique is called “stacking functions,” which means the animals raised on the farm have more functions than just being consumed in the dining hall. The tilapia are used in the aquaponics system to fertilize the water in which we grow an abundance of vegetables including lettuce, herbs, and tomatoes. The ducks, chickens and pigs help fertilize the soil and facilitate a crop rotation. Once the animals are reaching the end of their life span they are used to feed The Island School community.

First, the Permaculture Team headed over to the aquaponics system for the tilapia harvest. The team learned that the process begins by putting the tilapia in buckets of ice water which reduces their metabolic rate to a point where they are humanely culled and the filleting can begin. The harvested tilapia range in age from 9-15 months and weigh an average of 1300 grams. The research team dissected the fish with hopes of collecting around 25% body weight of each fish. With the help of other community members the team filleted a total of ninety tilapia.

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The next harvest was the duck slaughter at the farm with the help of Walter, who raised the ducks. Walter taught the team that in order to place each duck in the least amount of stress he covers their eyes and and then with one motion he swiftly cuts the head off of the animal. The blood was then drained from the ducks by hanging the body upside down by the feet. Next, each duck was placed in very hot water in order to make plucking the feathers easier. The students who chose to help plucked and carved the ducks before sending them to the kitchen.

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The largest harvest was saved for last. Waking up slowly and wearily, the Permaculture team was joined by the rest of their Island School student peers to meet with Joe, Joseph and Johnny (from the farm team) at 6:15 AM to voluntarily partake in the pig slaughter. Before approaching the pig pen, Joe explained the process to the students on how the slaughter would take place. They then let the pig out of its pen and led it to the awaiting group of students, enticing it with a bucket of food. To ensure that the pig was relaxed, the farm team had practiced the same feeding method over the previous two weeks. Then, very carefully and precisely, Joseph shot the pig between his eyes with a captive bolt gun, ensuring to hit the brain and brainstem, which immediately killed the pig. Although certainly dead, for a minute or so the pig twitched and wiggled due to firing nerve endings. Next, similar to the ducks, the pig was placed in hot water and farm team and willing students proceeded to dehair the pig with knives and pig scrapers. Joseph sliced the pig open and gave a quick anatomy class of the pig’s internal organs. Soon thereafter, the students left for breakfast as the prepared pig was readied for transportation to the kitchen.

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These lessons really helped the students connect with their food and understand the process used to produce the meat they consume at home. After this past week, the students discussed how they felt about each practice and the ethics behind each slaughter. The consensus was that it is very important to know where the meat you consume comes from, and that you buy from farmers who exercise ethically sound practices. The Permaculture Team is excited to show their families everything they have learned over the past semester and to start cooking!