Yesterday started our annual checkout period for next summer's Stewards.  Heretofore, they've been interns, but we renamed them due to increasing stigma attached to that designation.  It seems that rather than being something that indicates progress and an open door, the term intern is now considered somewhat derogatory, like "well, you must not be able to do anything else, so you can get the boss coffee and run the copy machine."

             It's too bad that positive, revered terms like this sometimes fall into disrepute, but language and perceptions are funny that way.  The reason we abandoned the term "chicken pens" for our chicken shelters is because the animal welfare zealots thought we used the term pen as shorthand for penitentiary.

             I didn't think much of it until I was speaking at a conference in Baltimore and happened by a booth by one of these organizations and saw my picture on the front of a brochure.  I picked it up and read the vitriol about how Polyface abuses its poultry by confining them in pens like penitentiaries.

             When we used the term pen, we were thinking about security, like a toddler's playpen; a secure, safe place for vulnerable children to explore and play.  The onslaught and misperception were too strong, though, so we changed the term to shelter, which of course has a more direct meaning and is harder to skew.  I'd like to tell these animal welfarists that in 50 years we've never had a single hawk take a young chicken in one of our pens . . . er, shelters.

             At any rate, our steward candidates began arriving yesterday afternoon.  Over the next two weeks we'll have nearly 40 here for 2 days apiece, checking us out while we check them out.  You can learn a lot about a person working with them.  Who holds back?  Who jumps in?  Who's obnoxious?  Who's fun to be around?

             The process starts Aug. 1.  We open our website up from Aug 1 to Aug. 10 to take queries.  Each query receives an application to fill out.  From those, we choose about 40 to invite for the two-day checkout.  After the checkout, we pick our 10 Stewards and are up and running for next year, May 1-Sept. 30.

             Here is our vision for the program, renamed the Polyface Farm Boot Camp:  To prove to myself, to Polyface, and to the world that I have the ability and character to continue the journey to become a master farmer.

             The Mission Statement is this:  As a Steward I am at Polyface for 5 months to receive introductory exposure to Polyface methodology and lifestyle which requires servanthood, repetition, accountability, teachability, and attention to detail, contributing to Polyface success.

             We will have monthly report cards, book reading assignments, and reports, along with pop quizzes and tests.   It's not for the faint of heart but we look forward to this two week period every year.  It's the launch pad for next season. Coming at the end of this season, it's always an emotional high to anticipate next season and meet the young people we'll invest in over the coming months.

             Do you like the name Stewards?