Monday, November 24, 2008

The Craze For Urban Poultry Farming

The New Coop de Ville
By Jessica Bennett NEWSWEEK
Published Nov 17, 2008

For Brooklyn real-estate agent Maria Mackin, the obsession started five years ago, on a trip to Pennsylvania Amish country. She, her husband and three children—now 17, 13 and 11—sat down for brunch at a local bed-and-breakfast, and suddenly the chef realized she'd run out of eggs. "She said, 'Oh goodness! I'll have to go out to the garden and get some more'," Mackin recalls. "She cooked them up and they were delicious." Mackin and her husband, Declan Walsh, looked at each other, and it didn't take long for the idea to register: Could we have chickens too? They finished their brunch and convinced the bed-and-breakfast owner, a Mennonite celery farmer, to sell them four chickens. They packed them in a little nest in the back of their Plymouth Voyager minivan and headed back to Brooklyn.

The family has been raising chickens ever since, in the backyard of their brick townhouse in an urban waterfront neighborhood called Red Hook. Every Easter, Mackin orders a new round of chicks, now from a catalog that ships the newborns in a ventilated box while they are still feeding from their yolks. When they are grown, she offers up their eggs—and occasionally extra chickens, when she decides she's got too many—to friends and neighbors, and sells a portion to a local bistro, which touts the neighborhood poultry on its Web site. She gives the chicken manure—a high-quality fertilizer—to a local community garden in exchange for hay, which she uses to pad the chickens' wire-fenced coop. Occasionally, she kills and cooks up a chicken for dinner—though, she says, her chickens are egg layers and aren't particularly tasty. "We joke and call ourselves the Red Hook Poultry Association," says the former social worker, who at one time housed 27 chicks inside her kitchen—for six weeks. "Sometimes people are like, 'This is really kind of weird'."

Meanwhile, at, the Web site created by the Madison Chicken Underground, chat-line operator Dennis Harrison-Noonan has turned his chicken love into a mini-business: he's sold 2,000 design kits for his custom-made playhouse chicken coop, which retails for $35. "It's really not that crazy to think that people are doing this," says Owen Taylor, the urban livestock coordinator at Just Food, which operates the New York Chicken Project. "Most of the world keeps chickens, and they've been doing so for thousands of years."

Historically, he's right. During the first and second world wars, the government even encouraged urban farming by way of backyard "Victory Gardens" in an effort to lessen the pressure on the public food supply. (Until 1859, there were 50,000 hogs living in Manhattan, according to Blecha.) "It's really only been over the last 50 years or so that we've gotten the idea that modernity and success and urban spaces don't involve these productive animals," Blecha says.

Read the NewsWeek article in it's entirety here.

1 comment:

Nick Jesch said...

Interesting the recent return to raising food at home, and the very different reasons folks are turning to it these days. My Mom talked about raising rabbits, chickens, and a large garden when she was a little girl in Springfield, Missouri, during the Great Depression. They HAD to to survive. The article also mentions the Victory Gardens during the wars of last century.. again, part of survival. These days, folks are tiring of the "factory food" system, chary of relying upon the massive (and vulnerable) food supply and distribution systems, and (more significant of late) the high perception of compromise in the purity and healthfulness of mass produced foods. A few are moving back toward simpler times, and desire more of a "connection" with their provender. In any case, it is rather interesting to see the "renaissance" of home food production. I've known a number of large families, mostly homeschooled, that have turned to home food production as a means of lowering the cost of feeding the "vast hordes" of the family estate's "residents", but also as a great way of training children up in bearing responsibility, creative thinking, discipline, and learning about how God's order can be well stewarded. I do chuckle, though, whenever I see the reasons some people proffer for their decision to do this: things like "I want to know where my food comes from", or "I desire a closer connection to what I eat". Sigh.... but hey, as long as people are doing it..... right?