Thursday, March 6, 2014

City Chicks & Hungry Folks

I ordered Araucanas, Light Brahmas, and Rhode Island Red chicks for early May. Three breeds good for laying, and not too bad in the soup pot either. They will be here for the Chicken Workshop Weekend and hopefully offer some hands-on experience for the guests. I love this weekend coming up. I think chickens are the true gateway drug into backyard livestock. They are easy to care for, beautiful to look at, funny to watch, and pay their way with eggs and meat. They require little space, cost little money, and can eat table scraps you might otherwise throw away. Joel Salatin says (and he means this earnestly) that everyone in the city should get the parrots out of their cages and keep a pair of chickens. They could lay eggs and eat table scraps and create the kind of local system most people only think exists on organic farms far away. But chickens, pigs, rabbits, goats, sheep and horses used to be a common site in the urban world. Why not welcome some of them back?

The reason being (we assume) that not everyone wants to wake up to neighbors' roosters, snorting pigs, and bleating goats. They don't live in the country for that very reason, among others. But I see this attitude changing, more and more. The stereotype of the city as a place without farmlife is fading fast. A new book is out called "City Goat" and while I haven't read it but I sure love the idea. One of my favorite farm memoirs of all time is Novella Carpenter's Farm City, which talks about turning an abandoned lot in rough part of Oakland into a small farm. She gets poultry, pigs, bees, gardens, rabbits and creates community along the way. It's a great story of a beginner's farm that just so happens to take place in the middle of a ghetto. back in 2009 when the book emerged that was an odd thing to see, but not anymore. A lot of my urban readers send photos of their city chicks, apartment rabbits, and rooftop hives. Food doesn't have to be in the country alone. It should always be where the people are.

That said, does it make anyone out there nervous how little most people think about food? How little they have? I'm not talking about poverty, I am talking about everyday people with a 2 week supply of food, max, in their homes. This barrenness is normal now. It is considered fringe thinking to fill a larder with a few months worth of food and you are a militia minded wacko if you store bottled water. But I can't think of anything more normal than eating? Food security (and water security) might be the most normal thing a person could do. So why do so few people have food in their homes? Why aren't there goats in backyards, chickens in parrot cages, worm bins under the sink, and hydroponics in the basement? We live in this amazing time where a person in 600 feet of apartment can feed himself if he is clever and has electricity, a window, and a friend with a roof or backyard to work with. Yet so few do? Is it laziness? Is it such a sense of safety that the grocery store will always be there? Or is real food security always going to be the haven of the eccentrics while cheap fossil fuel flows?

Your grandparents had more than two weeks of food in their house. If they lived in the country they had a lot more, and equipment to hunt, fish, trap and the knowledge to forage. Today we seem to be a people either too busy or too distracted to worry about tomorrow's dinner. Should we feel blessed or cursed?

I'll tell you this much: This farm has more than 2 weeks worth of food.


Blogger mdoe37 said...

Or worse....they move out to the country and then complain about the farms and the smells. My county came up with this:

A scratch and sniff brochure... wouldn't kid ya.

March 6, 2014 at 3:37 PM  
Blogger blind irish pirate said...

It's really tough, J. I work a little throughout the growing season hauling left over produce from markets to subsidized housing. The cost of healthful food is ridiculous and many people in food insecure situations are in locations called food deserts. So say what you (collectively, you) want about free handouts that the government gets: this is the world we live in. America over produces everything, wastes a greater part of that production and has created a society that builds its infrastructure on the backs of those who are vulnerable or unable to make enough to bust out of the machine. It's annoying, because if people don't want the government giving "free handouts," then they need to get off their hineys and help their neighbors.

The life that you have built and that many like you is a perfect example of how you can have the ideal American independent spirit and yet rely on your neighbor. It's the pioneering, self reliant streak that holds our communities together. But how do you teach children who are the 3rd generation "poor person" to be self-sufficient? How can you empower people struggling with illnesses, addictions, etc. to have these things?

Especially when the majority of the city is a turd and only throws money at problems instead of tackling the issues with their bare hands?

Oh, my God, I could go on for days. Argh.

My volunteer group is working on getting a community garden started in a low income area. As per usual, the hamster wheel is spinning out of control and I am not sure where I'm headed. If anyone has suggestions of experience with this kind of project, please hit me up.

March 6, 2014 at 11:11 PM  
Blogger aart said...

I love Light Brahmas!! Where do you order your chicks from Jenna?

Hear Hear, blind irish pirate!

March 7, 2014 at 6:23 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

Blind Irish Pirate, you might reach out to Friendship Gardens in Charlotte, NC. ( They are connected to our version of Meals on Wheels, and most of their food is grown either on site, or by a network of local gardeners. They might be able to offer some pointers, direction, etc. If you're in the States, maybe they can suggest sources for funding.

March 7, 2014 at 8:54 AM  
Blogger Robin Follette said...

It makes me nervous. When people who know our lifestyle say things like "When it hits the fan I'm coming to live with you," they have no idea what I'm thinking. Oh no they're not. If they were doing a little bit of what I do, were doing a little bit to help themselves, provide for themselves, I might welcome them. Otherwise, my hard work is for my family, not those who won't put in some time. Truly, anyone can grow a pot of lettuce or stick the base of some celery in a cup of potting soil. Something.

I would be in a serious state of panic over my food budget if we weren't so self reliant. Floods, drought, -25* days and colder nights, the rising price of diesel to get the next meal an average of 1,500 miles...and just a few days worth of food in the grocery store.

Scary stuff.

March 7, 2014 at 9:22 AM  
Blogger Kathleen Stoltzfus said...

Check out
Will Allen is doing some fabulous stuff.

March 7, 2014 at 12:40 PM  
Blogger WoodsForestHome said...

I'm always curious about what you do with all of your eggs!

About those food definitely depends on where you live. Coming from a very rural background you had better have a supply at home or else you waste a lot of time and gas going shopping every week 70 miles away. Some winters not planning ahead would have ended up in disaster. When I moved to the city I found myself still "stock piling" out of habit. I love that I again live in a place where it's normal to preserve and freeze your own food from your garden with hopes it will last until next season and perfectly normal to raise your own meat or buy shares from someone who does and hunt to fill the freezer. I fit in better with people of this mindset.


March 7, 2014 at 9:59 PM  
Blogger Jennifer Bartley said...

What makes me more uncomfortable than anything else is how we are becoming more and more legislated so that we really can't have food self-reliance in the burbs or the city. I'm in an area where legally we can have a front yard gardens or any "live stock" on less than 3 acres. It's ridiculous and we are totally taking an act first ask later approach this spring with building a coop for 2 silkie hens to have in our tiny townhouse backyard. And if I can convince my husband a small coop for quail as well. That in connection with some creative edible gardening should provide us more sustainable security if our neighbors keep their yap shut. I think we have completely lost focus when it is okay to have a large barking dog kenneled outside in a close proximity community and a tropical birdhouse but not food providing animals and plants.

March 8, 2014 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Meredith said...

Here's to all us "eccentric" people!
Just-in-time inventory on store shelves should scare the hell out of people.

March 8, 2014 at 4:51 PM  
OpenID cissa said...

We could probably eat for a couple of months, assuming the electricity doesn't fail (or we have a chance to preserve the meat in the freezers),and assuming we could grow or barter for some veg.

At this point we're more in prep mode- we want some country land, and are trying to find the right patch, and then will be starting the permaculture.

I'd love chickens, but here in serious suburbia- neighbors complain about my dog. I think chickens would be tough, though I long for them. We do have beehives, though.

March 13, 2014 at 7:57 PM  

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