Among those essential workers who have achieved considerably increased appreciation during the Covid -19 pandemic have been postal workers, who have kept delivering mail pretty well throughout. The United States Postal Service has for decades seemed threatened by obsolescence, only to find new services (Netflix, for example, and then fulfillment of orders placed by internet shopping, especially in the pandemic) that have helped keep it going. Postal delivery is a lifeline in many rural areas. If the Postal Service gets a needed financial rescue (despite the President’s resistance to helping an agency that does not act like a commercial carrier) it will likely be because rural Republicans in Congress know how much their constituents rely on the economical and essential services the USPS provides. (“A Fight Over the Future of the Mail Breaks Down Along Familiar Lines,” New York Times, May 10, 2020)
Not that the postal service hasn’t had its challenges recently. Despite operating very dependably here in Columbia County, its performance in New York City has been spotty through the pandemic. At my law office, we’ve gotten emails from the post office with pictures of letters supposedly out for delivery to us, only to have the letters arrive five or six weeks later, and sometimes not at all. Paychecks mailed from Manhattan to my office manager, who has been working from her home in Brooklyn, are so often delayed or disappeared that we’ve taken to sending her three weeks pay in advance to make sure she is not left pay-less. We have no idea how much important mail we may be missing.
It was with no small trepidation, then, that I initiated my usual order this year for young chicks from the Freedom Ranger hatchery in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. The chicks come, after all, by the U.S. Mail. If the delays affecting our City mail were to carry over to the poultry shipments, that could dramatically endanger the birds’ welfare. Chicks can be shipped by mail without food and water because, after feeding on egg yolk throughout their incubation, they ingest extra yolk at the time they hatch, enough to sustain them for about 72 hours. Provided they are put in proper boxes, with air holes sufficient for breathing and enough insulation to keep them warm, they can weather a shipment by mail very well. But they must arrive within 72 hours at most. The longer the trip the greater the stress and the lower the likelihood of survival.
This may seem like one of those cutting edge new services the Post Office has had to undertake in recent times to develop new revenue streams. In fact, it’s a long standing practice which dates back almost to the creation of Parcel Post itself.
Parcel Post service was created in 1913. At first, the only animals explicitly permitted to be shipped by postal regulations were bees and bugs. (The current bee-shipping regulations instruct that a Queen Bee can only be shipped by Air Freight if she is accompanied by at least eight attendant honeybees, and she is dropped off and met by ” alert personnel”). But creative shippers immediately saw a wide range of potential uses of the service. According to the Smithsonian Magazine, within the first year of Parcel Post there were several people who shipped children via parcel post, for example to see their grandparents (“A Brief History of Children Sent Through the Mail,” June 14, 2016). It turned out that parcel post, which charged by weight, could be far cheaper than buying a train ticket for a relatively light child. You need only put sufficient stamps on your child’s shoulder, along with a written delivery address, and the USPS would dutifully fulfill its mission.
Mailing of children was formally banned in 1920 (who knew this was the centenary of such an important event?). But by then, in fact in 1918, the service of shipping newly hatched chickens had been instituted. With that 102 year old service comes a whole series of rules. The chicks must be certified to be not more than one day old. They must be in appropriately protective containers, stacked not more than 10 high. They cannot be shipped at a time that has them arrive on a Sunday or holiday. The convention with all the hatcheries I’ve dealt with has been that they ship out on Mondays Tuesdays, and the birds usually arrive Wednesday or Thursday.
When I placed my order with the hatchery the order clerk assured me that despite worrisome published notices that shipments could take three or four days this year, they were in fact being delivered in the usual time. They said I might have the birds in one day, but almost certainly in two.
Sure enough, about 8:15 Thursday morning, approximately 36 hours from the time of shipment, Dave from the Germantown post office called to tell me that my chirping box had arrived. I hightailed it down there to retrieve them. Dave told me they were in far better shape than another box that had arrived from a different hatchery for another, very upset farmer. I don’t know where hers were coming from, but ours had the advantage of a relatively short trip (from Pennsylvania) in very warm 80 degree weather that meant the featherless little birds, huddled together cozily in their shipping box, were probably consistently in the 90 to 100 degree temperatures they thrive in. Perhaps the other birds came from further away, or traveled through wetter, colder conditions.
I brought my carton, pulsing and chirping with life, back home and Eric helped as we counted them out, dipping each one’s beak in water and then in grain so they got the idea of drinking and eating as we counted. We then deposited them in their brooder box, with its “Motherplate,” a Dutch-invented electric heating plate they can get under just as they would get under the feathers of the hen who hatched them. They are, I am pleased to report, thriving. It’s a welcome little note of healthy normalcy in such an abnormal time.
The Smithsonian Magazine insightfully noted that while mailing one’s children might be viewed as a highly negligent act, it in fact is evidence of how much the postal workers were trusted — enough to make them responsible for the welfare of vital young lives. In shipping young chicks, the Post Office still clearly takes its responsibility for vulnerable lives in its care seriously. It’s such a wonderful feeling, to trust our public servants to look out for vulnerable lives. If only we could have such trust in the utterly non-essential workers at the helm of our ship of state.
WHAT’S NEW THIS WEEK:
Is what was new last week:
Swiss Chard, $3/bag
Small White Oasis Turnips $2/bunch
Also: Elder Flowers, $2/bag: The flowers of the elderberry bush, great for sodas, infusions, liquors or a as a garnish
Purslane is at the ideal stage for the Turkish semiz otu salad; chopped purslane leaves and garlic, with olive oil, salt and yoghurt
The ground hog paid another visit and the kale which was ready is no longer. Thank God it doesn’t like Swiss chard.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK
Swiss Chard, $3/bag
Small White Oasis Turnips $2/bunch
Tiny hot matchbox peppers, $5.00 a string, dried and quite decorative.
Fresh dug horseradish root, $3/lb.
Sorrel, one gallon bag, $3/bag
Mint, $1/ bunch
Garlic chives (the flat kind), $1/bunch
Baby forrelenschluss lettuce, $2/bag
Elder flowers $2/bag
MEATS: Have been largely cleaned out during the supermarket shortages of this spring. What is still in stock:
LAMB: a few remaining , leg of lamb $14/lb, lamb shoulder roast $7/lb.
PORK: fresh ham roasts (2 to 3 lbs), $12/lb
Chickens will be available again at the end of summer, additional lamb in mid July.
Email us your order at email@example.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.