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Receiving an Import, the Greenfire Way
Thursday, October 27, 2011
As consumers, it's easy to lose sight of the process.  When I pick up eggs at the farmers' market (which I do since Greenfire can't support a weekly $600 omelet), I often catch myself forgetting about the birds the eggs came from.  And I'm a chicken farmer!  Sure, I've made a connection with 'my farmer,' we even share a few tales, but I don't typically stop myself and picture his morning of feeding the birds, moving them, etc.  The story gets lost somewhere in the mix.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly the way of the times.
We impart the difficulty of our workday pretty explicitly on the site.  It's true, there are lots of plates spinning around here.  But , thankfully, most of those plates are engaging, rewarding and fun to keep in rotation.  Take for instance shipping day.  I never get tired of unloading birds at the PO and getting the myriad questions about 'what I'm shipping,' 'how I do it,' 'where the boxes are going,' etc.  People seem pretty astounded by what we do, and really, it's pretty astounding.
Our day-to-day operations definitely have an element of the 'weird' to them.  Most of my friends still think I'm a whacko for some of the things I do with such casualness.  So, when you get your pairs or your baby chicks, try to keep in mind that this is a livelihood.  There are people manning it full-time and doing a lot of bizarre, unconventional things to make it all come together.  To give you a window into our bizarre world, I thought I'd let you in on a bit of the import process.
Imports are convoluted from the start.  There's the paper pushing, the number crunching, the scheduling, the endless e-mails, the updates, the letdowns, and all of the other stuff in between.  The most hilarious part is that even though we've gone through the process several times-streamlined it some-made some mistakes-had some close calls-etc., we still somehow cannot manage to have the birds shipped to FL at a reasonable hour of day.  Which is fine.  If I’m going to pick up birds from the airport, I want to pick up birds at the airport at the shadiest time of night, looking sketchy and a little road weary.
If the people in the PO are incredulous, you can imagine what the people at Delta Cargo think when I’m picking up several dog crates filled with chickens, the likes of which they've never seen before.  Bear in mind, they think it's even more insane when they see the declared value of said funky chickens.
Do not tell the rental company what it's for.  Somehow, they always ask.  One time, I was honest, which resulted in me having to explain to the location manager how I was taking extra precautions to prevent any damage to the car (i.e. laying down a heavy duty tarp).  Incidentally, the location manager was a farm boy from Iowa and I smiled just so and we bonded over the new farmers' plight.  I promised him there would be no signs of chicken by the time I returned the vehicle.  So, now when I pick up a rental, I just casually say, "I'm going to a breeders' conference in Jacksonville."  No one needs to be the wiser.
It's about a two-hour drive, which is hardly anything to balk at, but when you've been up since seven, lived to tell of another day of farm work and you're now hitting the road at five, knowing you won't be back until 1AM with birds to install in the dark, the task seems a little more challenging.  That two-hour drive is pretty unremarkable to boot. So, with the seats all folded down in the mini-van, you remind yourself that you will be returning with some pretty incredible cargo, cargo that only a few people in the country have had the privilege of handling before you.
Now, I have to count my blessings, the planes have always arrived as scheduled, and there have never been any unbearable waits.  I can even time it so that by the time I arrive, the birds are ready to be handed off without any hiccups.  Interestingly, they're pretty fastidious about the names on the documents.  One time, I had to do some tough convincing that I was in fact picking birds up on Paul's behalf and that it wouldn't be a great idea to call him at midnight to confirm.  I guess it seemed plausible that no one else in their right mind could possibly want to be hauling 30 chickens in the middle of the night.
So, as you might have imagined, the drive back is even more unremarkable than the drive there.  The sweet thing is all of the cooing and chicken noises you get to hear in the background.  It's nighttime, so most of the birds are quiet, but you do hear an occasional hen settling in or moving about.  And the smell?  I always get this question.  It's not so bad and frankly, I know a lot of show goers that travel with way more birds and don't complain of the stench.  Crack a few windows, get the radio going, it's easy to overlook.
So, back at the farm, things get a little weirder.  We don't have any lights where the chicken pens are so that we don't disturb their sleep.  It's a nice notion but completely crazy on nights when you've got to figure out which pens which chickens are going into.  Up until this point, the only acquaintance I have with these breeds is through pictures, and these are younger and not looking totally like they do in the pictures.  So, with lantern in hand, you pull birds out one at a time, guess to the best of your ability and of course, coming from USDA, they're packed at random, so you might have a chocolate Orpington rooster with a Legbar hen in one crate and a completely haphazard pairing in another crate.  There's not much reason to the madness but after an hour or so of switching and swapping, you end up with 5 new breeding pens of really gorgeous, road weary birds, sleeping in fresh hay in new, clean pens prepared just for their arrival.  It's really a sight.  And the best part is the next morning, when you get to the farm and they're all somehow already up and about, scratching in the hay and getting acquainted with their new digs.  I will never get over the fact that they have no idea they are thousands and thousands of miles from where they originally hatched.  And with that, another successful import lands at Greenfire.
That first morning, the crew stands around for a little while, watching them and we all pick new favorites.  We always remark to each other how thankful we are for the opportunity to work with birds that no one else in the country has had the chance to observe and get to know yet!  And we are definitely always thankful for the 'weirdness' behind what we do.