Death and the Farm


By Heather Walker

On a hot August day a middle-aged Greek man strides through the farmers’ market, sees our sandwich board, and stops to read it again. “Makaria Farm!” he announces, and comes over to my table. “How is it that everywhere there is Hopping Rabbit Farm and Singing Bird Farm, and here you have Makaria Farm?” He is mispronouncing “makaria” but he’s Greek and it’s a Greek word, so it’s probably us who have been mispronouncing it for two generations. Awkward.

I explain that Brock’s parents found “makaria” in the Bible, where it translated to “blessed:” perfectly suitable for their organic farm. When we bought our own land in 2007, we considered the name partly because we already had the signage. Google confirmed the name was right for us when it revealed “makaria” meant not just “blessed,” but “blessed death:” we were ending our city life for a new, happier life.

I ask my Greek friend what “makaria” means to him, and he explains that it’s the meal served after a funeral in Greece. There’s a set menu. It’s tasty. I look at the fresh vegetables piled high on our market tables, and am awed by serendipity.

Some folks might find a farm name so closely associated with death to be a bit freaky, but in fact we’re just being honest: a farm requires death. You can’t grow healthy, nutritious vegetables without feeding the soil dead plant and/or animal fertilizers, like compost and fishmeal. Chickens hatch out at 50-50 males and females: every flock of layer hens (i.e. females) equates to male chicks or roosters being killed because they’re superfluous. When you raise pigs or cows for meat, the slaughterhouse is a necessary stage in the process.

Even though Brock and I have (so far) avoided livestock, we still share our land with wild rabbits, birds of all kinds, frogs, snakes, deer, worms and a universe of insects. Death is an everyday occurrence, from killing worms when tilling the soil to setting out rat traps in the shed. Part of a farmer’s job – of working outdoors and imposing artificial order on a natural ecosystem – involves being able to handle death emotionally, spiritually and logistically.

In the years since we fled our Victoria condo for Makaria Farm, death has come in many forms to our ten acres. These passings have helped me realize that death is an inevitable, natural part of life – which, at least for me, makes death a little less scary. Here’s a recount to honour the dead:

The chickens

Three of our black layer hens are raccooned sometime after dark. We find the coop door open, the feathers trailing outside to inside-out chickens, limp red combs, and stiff chicken feet. We are left with two anxious survivors: one in the apple tree, one huddled in the darkest nesting box. I lean in to pet her spine and she winces, chicken wings up in defense.

Forty-eight hours later and the treed survivor has taught the other hen to launch herself over the netted run walls. I catch them scratching at the horse manure compost pile, pecking at red wigglers as if they’re popcorn. Worm genocide.

The deer

Some asshole races down our rural road and collides with a deer. We’ve all built fences around our farm fields and the deer wander as refugees. Deer down, the driver accelerates and makes his getaway to the Trans-Canada.

Witnesses include my brother, Joe, and a balding farmer in his pickup. The deer paws at the pavement with bloody hooves.

Joe gets a rusty axe from the shed and stands above Bambi. But he buys his steak at Walmart so says to the old man: “You’re probably better at this than me.” The man takes the axe and swings with confidence.

They lift the deer corpse into the truck bed and the farmer drives away.

The swan

The snow melts except for a puddle of white by the front fence. I wander out to investigate and see the black beak. I scream, then holler to Brock that there’s a dead trumpeter swan in our yard. Internet research says if we move the body ten feet over the fence and beside the road it’ll become someone else’s problem. Alternatively, dead birds should be disposed of into the garbage for biweekly roadside pick-up. I doubt they meant a trumpeter swan, but whatever. I can’t bear to touch the corpse so Brock struggles solo to fit the thirty pound bird into a garbage bag: the long, loose neck flops to the side.

The bunny

We’re walking out to the field to harvest and something cat-sized is caught in the fence netting. It scrambles as we move closer. I suspect a raccoon but nightmares sometimes come true and it’s a wild rabbit, smaller and tawnier than my now-deceased house rabbit of nine years. I remember Peter’s silky white nose and ask Kim, one of our pickers, to put her hand over the bunny’s eyes so it doesn’t panic as much from seeing us. There’s not much we can do about dulling our human scent. The other women are dumb with concern so I play paramedic and ask one to get the old bunny carrier from the shed and pad it with hay. Another runs to the house for a pair of scissors.

Kim holds the rabbit to dull the jostling as I carve through netting with my Swiss army knife. The netting has cut into the bunny’s legs and side: there is blood and flesh. I doubt a wild rabbit will survive these wounds. Luckily, rabbits can die of fear and this one succumbs just before I cut it free. Kim unwraps the netting from stiff limbs and places the body in the carrier. We walk back to the house to wash our hands. I tell Kim that we will bury the rabbit, but it’s peak harvest season and we’re too busy to dig in hard soil so the body goes to the dump later that day.

(A moment of silence for all the dead, from the tilled worms to the birds caught by the feral neighbourhood cats to the curious garter snakes decapitated by the mower.)

Yes, with its tiramisu layers of meaning “makaria” is exactly the right name for our farm. It is the death of an old life and the beginning of a new life. It is good food borne from healthy, “blessed” soil, fed by our compost. It is a feast to celebrate the natural cycle of death and life, because other living things will always have to die for us to live.

“Makaria” is all these things, and we’re proud to continue the family tradition of mispronouncing it.


  1. Posted April 16, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    Thanks so much Heather for your posting – all so true. This is about “real” life. – Great following you on Twitter – Sheila

    • Posted April 23, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Thank you for commenting, Sheila! Yes, Twitter is a great tool for keeping our customers & other friends up-to-date on farm drama … Thank you for following.
      – Heather

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Up on the Farm

Heather McLeod

Heather McLeod's fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly and The Winnipeg Review. She has a passion for learning practical skills, and shares her adventures on a blog here.