What’s Going On?

by James Sands, guest blogger

“… and I scream from the top of my lungs, WHAT’S GOING ON?! “

My wife was casting about for potential guest bloggers, and I reluctantly answered the call—not certain if my current brand of comma-laced (the world gives me pause), cynical incredulity would be deemed appropriate for public consumption—but, if you are reading this, and hopefully not reluctantly, it, apparently, was.

Perhaps some or maybe even most of you will remember the pop tune from the early nineties, “What’s Up,” written and performed by Linda Perry, formerly of 4 Non Blondes, and its unavoidable, inherent question. Linda Perry could belt one out, and that question was aurally etched into the auditory pathways of my brain with the earnest fierceness and underlying frustration of someone who, I imagine, knows the biggest and most important questions are typically the ones that go unanswered. Her question, timely then, is even more so today.

“What’s going on?”

There is much I do not understand. We are in the midst of what is possibly the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. And, in addition to climate change, we are also in a pandemic that has sickened almost 250,000,000 people and caused the deaths of over 5,000,000 people world wide. This seems like a time when humans should come together, should unite in common purpose against global crises that detrimentally impact us all.

Yet what do we do? We divide; we attack; we fracture—swayed by forces that seemingly are out to confuse, profit, segregate and control. Why?

It is apparent many of us live in two separate realities, polar realities supported and fueled, in part, by major media organizations that, seemingly, no longer view themselves as purveyors of the news, keepers of the sacred truth. Instead, they have become “social influencers.” My spell-check does not like the word “influencers; “neither do I. I am disgusted by it. The truth is sacred—but not to some.

Social media for example. What promise. What possibility. What potential to educate and unite. But no. Social media has become a powerful wedge for the dividers—and a money machine for those who have the power to check and eradicate the lies that live and thrive there. Tragically, it is also, for some, the only source of “news.”

Why is it easier for some people to believe prominent democrats run child prostitution rings out of pizza shops or JFK junior is not deceased but has been in hiding the past twenty-two years and will return to become president or Covid vaccines contain satanic markers than it is for them to believe the burning of fossil fuels has altered our climate to the point where we now are on the cusp of irreversible, planet-wide disaster?

The internet, via social media, now runs the biggest tabloid press on the planet. 

I can see with my own eyes the climate is warming. Ten years ago, my young son and I built a snowman on the day after Halloween. This year, on November 2, I harvested the last of my peppers from plants that were still producing blossoms, yielding almost a half bushel basket the day before our first major frost. This in Bangor, Maine. I have never had pepper plants survive, let alone thrive, outdoors past mid October.  

I have been to Los Angles; I have been to Boston; I have been to Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago, St. Louis, Buffalo. I have witnessed the traffic; I have seen the sick gray skylines, the billowing clouds of smoke. I have watched the documentaries, seen the pictures of smog-shrouded cities in India, Pakistan, China, Kuwait, Uganda, Bangladesh, Russia, Mexico, Peru, Egypt, and Iran to list a few.

Where does all of that pollution come from and where does it all go? I have read the literature. I understand how CO2 emissions affect the upper atmosphere. Climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels is accepted as fact by a majority of scientists world-wide. Do they have an agenda? Are they making money by promoting this. Is there an international corporation of scientists whose board of directors dictates this truth be told in order to keep their stock holders cash-fat and happy?

I do not own a gigantic mushroom-shaped projectile filled with enough liquid rocket Viagra to penetrate and inseminate the mesosphere nor do I have a cowboy hat. I grow a garden; I raise chickens, and I refuse to be divided. Many of my neighbors do not agree with my political views. I refuse to hate them for it. Granted, I do not agree with or understand why they are where they are regarding issues like climate change and Covid-19, but I do understand how they were led there. Still, I refuse to be divided.

We are all human; we are all one; this planet is one—our only one. I cannot escape it nor would I want to. I love the earth and all the creatures on it. This is my home. Agree with them or not, all humans are my people.

And this is where I really get cynical. Do I think we will come together to save ourselves? Right now, I do not. There are powerful forces aligned against us, powerful people hell-bent on dividing us–hell-bent on turning this planet into a hell. Too many seem unwilling to change; too many seem profit-driven rather than socially motivated. Too many seem selfish, mired in ego and greed. As a whole, we humans just might be fatally flawed. We continue to repeat the same terrible mistakes, revel in the same ridiculous arguments, fall along the same unwholesome divisions.

Will we survive? Will we find the common ground that exists all around us, under us? If we are going to find a way out of this, we had better. And that, now, is the ultimate truth.  

And maybe next year, I’ll plant watermelons.

photo credit: Rachel Jarboe, Unsplash

Sammi Chicken, Ambassador

by Crystal Sands

She likes bananas and blueberries, traveling, and long walks on the beach. She has beautiful red feathers and has visited more landmarks than most humans. She is also full of personality—and is quite famous. Her name is Sammi Chicken, and she’s a little Rhode Island Red hen who travels the country with her good friend, Dave Cox, educating humans about the awesomeness of chickens.

Sammi Chicken has her own Facebook page, Instagram account (she has more than 57,000 followers!), and is a bit of a TikTok star. She has been featured in her own Dodo video and has even made an appearance at Today.com. Sammi and Dave travel the country, visiting all of the famous landmarks they can, and sharing pictures of their travels on social media. Along the way, they are working to do good for chicken kind–and human kind as well.

I found the Sammi Chicken Facebook page a few months ago by accident and fell in love with Dave’s fantastic pictures of Sammi in all of her beautiful Rhode Island Red glory. I have the biggest soft spot for Rhode Island Red hens. My first baby chicks were Rhode Island Reds, and I fell in love with the breed, as they are both intelligent and hardy. Dave and Sammi’s adventures always make me smile. When I reached out to Dave to see if he might sit down for a chat with me for Farmer-ish readers, I was so happy that he agreed!

Dave Cox is a former high school Agriculture teacher who is now teaching in a different way—with a really cool sidekick, Sammi (though I have to say that I am guessing Dave considers himself Sammi’s sidekick). He was looking for a pet after his dog soulmate of 17 years passed away. He was heartbroken after the loss and found himself at a feed store in his home state of Florida.

He reached into a giant bin that was truly a sea of fluffy chicks and pulled out one chicken, a very fortunate Rhode Island Red, who Dave would name Sammi. Together, Sammi and Dave have many adventures and get to change people’s perceptions about chickens along the way.

When I spoke to Dave, one of the first things I noticed was just how much fun it was to speak to a chicken person who has a deep understanding of the personality of a chicken. Though chicken personalities vary, just like human personalities, there are some traits they all seem to have in common: They are social creatures who are far more intelligent than most people give them credit for being, and they can be really good companions. Just as people become friends with other types of birds they keep as pets, chickens and humans can form a powerful bond. Dave and Sammi are certainly evidence of this bond on a grand scale.

I asked Dave what were some of the most surprising things he has learned from being friends with Sammi, and he said “Just how much she is able to express herself and her needs,” though Dave emphasized that he had a learning curve when it came to figuring out her methods of expression.

This is something I deeply connected with. I researched for years before we got chickens and started our little farm. After we started our flock, I spent the first years in shock that nothing I had read fully prepared me for the complexities and intelligence of chickens. Learning curve indeed!

But, in addition to educating people about the intelligence of chickens, Dave spends his time educating people about general chicken facts. For an animal that feeds so many of us, many Americans know very little about chickens.

For example, Dave said that he was recently on a trip to New York City with Sammi, and, in Times Square, he was approached by a police officer. Dave said, “I expected the officer to tell me that Sammi couldn’t be here; instead, the officer started asking me questions about chickens.” Dave continued, “He asked me things like, ‘How do you get chickens to lay eggs?’ and ‘Do you have to have a rooster?’”

I chuckled, but Dave reminded me of how little some people know about chickens. “They’ve just never had a chance to be around them,” Dave said. But Sammi gives them a chance.

By the end of my interview with Dave, we just ended up telling chicken stories, and I had the best time. It was great to be able to tell stories about some of my experiences with chickens to someone who understood them. It was a lovely experience to chat with someone who is so connected to a chicken, and I have to admit that I felt more than a little jealous of Dave and his connection to Sammi. I have 30 chickens in a flock and not nearly enough time to observe them as I would wish. Dave gets to know Sammi on a much deeper level, and because of this, he has so much knowledge to share with the world.

When I was growing up, I was always told that chickens were “dumb animals,” along with cows and pigs. Of course, none of this is true, but the misconceptions persist. And I argue that it is the misconceptions about the social and emotional intelligence of chickens that make it far too easy for them to be abused within our food system. I am thankful for the work of Dave and Sammi.

I am also just really thankful, when I have had a tough day, that I can head to social media and see beautiful pictures of a lovely red hen living a unique and special life with her good friend.

photos courtesy of Dave Cox