Farmer Gary Withering carefully set the rickety staircase beneath the pigpen's door, then placed a handful of freshly oiled marbles at the top of the dilapidated stairs. "A sow with great balance will hardly notice. It's not like we're stacking lit candles on dry kindling in there. That's only for the milking barn."
In a sleepy corner of upstate New York, Mr. Withering and his wife Sarah are blazing a controversial trail in the so-hot-right-now field of humane farming. Here at Lucky Farms, the only animals they kill are those they kill by accident.
Back at the farmhouse, Sarah gazed across her glowing green pasture. "The only problem is volume. We have a certain quota we need to meet to be profitable, but there are only so many deadly mishaps that naturally happen to farm animals." Now her brow twitched just slightly, almost imperceptibly. "That's why we started installing the... improvements."
The couple estimated that their latest "improvement" at the pigpen would yield roughly ten fatal hog accidents per month, compared to the typical average of one every twenty-five years. "If we can't hit ten slip-and-falls a month," Gary explained, "we'll probably add a bunch of roller skates."
Later, over a steaming mug of homemade gravy, Sarah tersely recounted the ethical struggles she and her husband had experienced since they started Lucky Farms in early 2006. "Gary and I always planned to raise meat animals with love and respect, which is why we got hung up on the slaughtering. Because no matter how you do it, slaughtering is murder. If it's intentional. So after a lot of long talks and some really hurtful screaming, we decided to just set up some dangerous situations and... you know... look the other way."
As of press time, there's no law that says you can't rest a plugged-in, corn-filled toaster on the edge of a goat's water trough. And there's no clear statute against randomly placing fifteen camouflaged wells in a crowded cow pasture. Still, it could be argued that Lucky Farms is the agricultural equivalent of a playground built on an a minefield. Regardless, the Witherings are committed: they recently signed a deal with ExxonMobil's Olde Foodlandia Foods to bring Lucky Meats to the mass market by the end of 2010.
So will the Whole Foods set embrace the Witherings' controversial methods? Will the "meat is murder" crowd be stumped by the "Lucky loophole"? One indication might be the response of a few avid locavores who happened upon the Witherings' stall at a nearby farmer's market. "I've eaten literally every species of duck that's native to this region," said Zach Aronson, a freelance unemployment counselor who recently fled Brooklyn for the bucolic beauty of his parents house. "Yes, I know how these ones died, and I have to say that their livers are more nuanced than any I've ever tasted. You can really taste the surprise." Mr. Aronson paused before continuing, his tongue briefly piercing the small smile that had reached his lips. "The surprise... it's delicious."
Now that the story of Lucky Farms is reaching the world (thanks to me), there will certainly be concern, ire, and an avalanche of vicious micro-bloggery. But the truest test for any well-intentioned doubters will certainly be the first bite of a succulent Lucky chicken breast, still damp with a sublime marinade of red wine and sleeping pills. After that, I bet they'll shut up.