Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A Crunchy Thanksgiving

A farm-life story fromt he Dispatch . Go Crunchiness!!!

Thankful for farm life
Rural move gave family new direction — and most of their Thanksgiving dinner
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Matt Tullis

Kim Wilhelm checks out Henrietta, a female turkey she is keeping to breed. The Wilhelms call all the female turkeys Henrietta and all the males Tom.

Acey the cat hitches a ride on 14-year-old Missy Wilhelm’s shoulders as Missy’s mom, Kim, prepares to feed some of the family’s animals at their farm outside Canal Winchester. Missy’s brother, David, 10, is a bystander.

he Toms and Henriettas ran
Taround the grassy yard, gobbled up food and ran from a dog named Henry. It was little more than a week before Thanksgiving, and the end was near. Come Thursday, one of them will be the guest of honor on the Wilhelm family dinner table, and another will be in a freezer awaiting Christmas. The other 21 have been sold and will be on other dinner tables throughout this holiday season. "The taste and texture are by far the best," said Kim Wilhelm, who along with her children has cared for the birds the past six months on the family’s 28-acre farm outside Canal Winchester.

Because they raise almost everything they need, the family’s Thanksgiving dinner grocery list is a short one: dinner rolls and cranberry sauce.

The Wilhelms are living their dream of a self-sustainable lifestyle. But they wouldn’t be if not for a rough patch five years ago.

Roger and Kim Wilhelm’s painting business went bankrupt after three major customers failed to pay for jobs.

The couple paid for things with credit cards and took out a second mortgage to get through the lean times, but new business never emerged. They lost their Westerville house and a new pickup.

They moved to Kim’s father’s farm, which had fallen into disrepair since her mother died.

Roger already had rebuilt an old pig barn on the farm, with plans to use it as an office for his painting business. Instead, he has turned it into an apartment, where the family lives, and a woodshop from which he operates a home-remodeling business.

Kim reconnected with the rural lifestyle she loved as a young girl, when she spent summers at her great-grandmother’s farm near Marietta. She has passed that love on to her children, Missy, 14, and David, 10.

Now the farm has a new life. There are turkeys, steers, horses, goats, ducks and chickens. There is a vegetable garden that, among other things, yielded 63 pounds of green beans this past summer.

"Since we’ve been here, it’s drawn our family closer," Kim Wilhelm said.

Missy and David treat the animals like pets, up until the end. The family doesn’t think twice about eating the animals they raise. The children are home-schooled and handle a lot of the daily chores. They also do several 4-H projects each year.

Missy, who was bottle-feeding a calf one morning last week, said she "loves on" some of the animals. David said he likes the young bull named Meatloaf, a moniker that no doubt foreshadows its future.

"When an animal is meant to be food, we’re going to eat it," Kim Wilhelm said. "At least we know they’ve been raised in a healthy environment, and they were happy and well cared for."

The 23 turkeys, ranging from bourbon reds to royal palms and blue slates, have been on the farm since they arrived as dayold chicks. The males all go by Tom, the females Henrietta, Missy said.

"There are just too many to name," she said.

Of all the animals, the turkeys are probably the easiest to care for, Missy said. "We just let them eat and get fat."

Less than a week before the holiday, the birds were trucked off to an Amish farm where they were "processed."

The family loves the lifestyle, Kim Wilhelm said, but they worry about the constant pressure in the neighborhood to develop. They fear that open land across the road one day will grow houses instead of corn.

It’s a challenge making a small farm financially successful, but the family is committed. Kim Wilhelm likes what a self-sustaining lifestyle can teach her children. David, for instance, can learn valuable lessons as he nurses a duckling back to health in his bedroom.

He named it Lucky Duck because its six siblings were killed by an "evil rat."

Luck can carry a duck only so far, though, especially at the Wilhelm home. Lucky Duck is a Muscovy duck and has a very tasty, steaklike meat.

When he is well enough, Lucky Duck will go back outside. And when he is big enough, Kim Wilhelm said, even Lucky Duck will be plucked.

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