Traditional Techniques and the “Hopper Popper”?

February 16, 2017
By James Gonzalez

This year CSANR sponsored registration for several WSU students to attend the Tilth Conference.  We will be posting reflections written by the students over the next several weeks. Please feel free to comment and give these students your feedback.

As Michael Philips so eloquently stated in his opening address for this year’s Tilth Conference, “It’s about finding who you are.” These words resonated with me tremendously throughout the duration of the conference, as this is a concept that had been on my mind throughout the previous year. My name is James Gonzalez and I am a senior at Washington State University in Pullman.

Being as this marks my fourth year of attendance at the Tilth Conference, I may consider myself familiar with the ins-and-outs of the conference goings-on. Previous years have put me in convention centers in Yakima, Vancouver, and Spokane, with this year providing me an opportunity to see Wenatchee for the first time. As with prior conferences, this one presented me with an abundance of knowledge and more questions than I could have answered.

When deciding on which workshops to attend this year, I took a different approach. Previously, I had attempted to gain further knowledge about subjects I was slightly familiar with and/or felt comfortable with learning about. This year, attempting to broaden my horizons, I chose workshops that discussed subjects in which I was totally ignorant. In hindsight… I am so happy I did. In order to save on time and eliminate the chance of boredom, I am going to discuss a teensy bit about two of my favorite workshops from the conference: one discussing hedgerows and the other discussing meat rabbits.

Eric Lee-Mäder did a wonderful job introducing me to the concept of hedgerow agroecology. Prior to his workshop discussion, I had only considered hedgerows as something that people put up as either a windbreak or to prevent nosey neighbors from peeking into their yards. In reality, hedgerows have been around since ancient times, mainly to protect from foreign invaders, but have since then become bustling centers of biodiversity. What I found most fascinating about his talk was his explanation on how hedgerows were traditionally constructed. In the simplest way that I can explain through writing, small trees were cut through until they essentially dangled on a small piece of themselves. At this point, they were bent over and fastened together using other flexible pieces of wood (binders; usually hazelnut). As these trees regrew, they would retain this shape and continue their normal growth cycle. Over time, these hedges would take the form of a “living wall”, which could provide habitat to a number of different creatures and facilitate the growth of different plants in the understory. I thought this was one of the coolest things ever! You’re telling me I can provide a safe haven for animals, have a living property line, and reap additional agroecological benefits? Well, sign me up!

If I had to tell you what I enjoyed the most about Sherry Bodkins presentation about meat rabbit production, I would say it was her level of “realness”. She explained that she was in no way, shape, manner, or form, an expert on this topic. She is just a woman with a passion for what she does and enjoy providing help to those interested. Not knowing a thing about rabbit production, I am extremely glad that I attended. Not only did she provide a well thought out presentation about the ins-and-outs of getting started and maintaining an operation, but she also provided a folder filled with additional resources that would also help someone get on their feet! Talk about overachieving! My favorite piece of information that she shared with us was of a tool referred to as the “hopper popper”. I won’t get into too many gory details, but it is essentially a mounted tool that works via cervical dislocation (breaking of the neck). I thought it was an interesting tool, as I had always just assumed that people clubbed rabbits on the head to dispose of them. Miss Bodkins explained that this was something that she had done previously, but found the “hopper popper” to be a much more efficient and humane way of harvesting her rabbits. If you can handle it, I would recommend looking up a demonstration video!

All in all, I had a wonderful time and I can’t wait for the next conference!

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