Category Archives: Community and Citizenship

Urban Farm Feminism

Recently an essay in the New York Times Magazine introduced me to a new word. Evidently, if you are a highly educated woman who left the workforce to be a stay-at-home mom, and you keep chickens and grow a garden, you are a “femivore.”

The writer, Peggy Orenstein, is responding to a new book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture by Shannon Hayes, who suggests that the still-blooming interest in sustainable living has provided, as Orenstein puts it, “an unexpected out from the feminist predicament, a way for women to embrace homemaking without becoming Betty Draper.” Hayes’s book, she writes, is “a manifesto for ‘tomato-canning feminists.'” Then Orenstein snarks, “Apparently it is no longer enough to know the name of the farm your eggs came from; now you need to know the name of the actual bird.”

It’s not her sarcasm that troubles me. It’s her cynicism. Orenstein almost — but not quite — uses the word “precious” to describe the endeavors of living more simply and sustainably. Ultimately she warns that the chicken coop can become like the gilded cage — just as much a trap. If the femivores are doing all the work and their husbands aren’t carrying their share (Hayes seems to think they do, while Orenstein sounds skeptical), there goes all our hard-earned freedom.

Hmm.

I am a tomato-canning feminist. But I’m not married, I don’t have children, and I have a busy professional career doing things I enjoy. Which, I suppose, knocks me out of the “femivore” category. But I keep chickens, grow a garden, preserve my produce, knit, make my own laundry detergent, and bake my own bread because I love doing those things, I love good food, and I’m as much an environmentalist and a cheapskate as I am a tomato-canning feminist. I don’t think Hayes is questioning your feminist cred if you don’t do them. I would still be a feminist even if I didn’t can tomatoes.

I can’t speak for stay-at-home moms (in my neighborhood, I like to think of them as the Powermoms, and trust me — they are awe-inspiring), but none of it feels like a trap to me. It feels like freedom. Empowerment, even. Mastering skills, lessening your environmental impact, and achieving greater self-sufficiency have that effect on some people.

And it’s an act of renunciation of a certain sort of consumer culture, as Hayes advocates. That, to me, also feels like freedom and power. While Orenstein implies — but again, doesn’t quite say — that my pursuits make me a kind of agrarian dilettante who “dabble[s] in backyard farming,” until the City of Decatur makes it legal for me to keep a herd of goats in my backyard, it’s what I can do, and it’s what I want to do. I’m grateful that I am able.

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When Chickens Sympose

I have to admit that when Oakhurst Community Garden director Stephanie Van Parys first uttered the words “Chicken Symposium” to me a few months ago, the image that popped into my brain was a gathering of chickens wearing little togas across their breasts and wreaths of laurel around their combs, sitting around an elegant Hellenic room reclined on pillows and sofas and wildly gesticulating with their wings, beaks open in passionate debate.

This is what a liberal arts education does for you (thank you, Professor Behan of intro philosophy). At least I keep myself amused.

Baby chicks for the raffle

I was even more amused when I arrived at the Decatur Recreation Center the morning of  February 6 to discover that, in fact, the chickens were right there in the mix. There were two bins of four-day-old chicks, plus Linda Hamilton’s array of fancy breeds (silkies, silver-laced wyandottes, and a few adorable little bantams that I wanted to steal!). And believe me, all of them had plenty to say.

Cute and cuddly bantam

Linda and her lovely ladies

And so did the speakers. It was a strong line-up. Jonathan Watts-Hull (who, I am proud to say, got his start after taking the first Chicks in the City class we ever offered and was our “star pupil”) led a session on “chicken chores,” Linda (who once took the class because she just wanted to meet some other folks interested in chickens) talked about breed selection, Andy “The Chicken Whisperer” Schneider was there to teach on illnesses and diseases, Veronique Perrot (also a class alumna) talked about how her chickens work for her in her garden. Greg Haney was there to talk about coop design. And I taught a session I called “Chicks Rule,” which was a crash course introduction to keeping chickens.

Taking questions, flapping wings

After two parallel tracks in the morning, we all gathered for some Q&A from the 50 or so folks who had signed up for the half-day symposium, eager to launch their flockkeeping careers. As you can see (below, center), I gesticulated wildly with my wings, beak open. And then the big excitement: a dozen folks went home with baby chicks to get them started!

So the first ever Chicken Symposium went off without a hitch, but with plenty of cackles, skwawks (hey! a palindrome!), and peeps. Can’t wait to hear what they have to say next year.

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A good yarn

Some weeks back, I reported on my feeble attempts at learning to knit. It wasn’t an easy start, but I am beginning to appreciate the zen of the craft. Once you figure out the pattern, it transcends thought. There is a grace and rhythm that visits your fingers, and all you do is relax and let them take over. And then you wake up, and you have a hat.

Entangled in texture and color

Or maybe three or four or more. Once I figured out the nifty hat trick, I lost all self-control. Partly it was the yarn. I love a good yarn. I found this super-bulky woolly stuff in great colors on sale, so I bought piles and piles of it. But I had a reasonable justification: this coming weekend is the Rabun Rendezvous, the big annual fundraiser for the Rabun Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a wonderful natural resource conservation organization that my family has been involved with for nearly twenty-five years. Every year I try to come up with some interesting and creative items for the silent auction — a gift basket, some homemade goodies, one year I contributed two dozen eggs. This year, it’ll be hats and fingerless gloves.

Energized by my purchase, I started giving my creations names: a red hat was “Ruby,” a green child’s hat is “Li’l Peahead.” Then I began mixing and matching colors and bestowing flyfishing inspired names: “Riparian,” “The River,” “Hemlock Grove.”

"Keepin' Warm Kit"

I decided I needed to put together a couple of gift baskets. One is called a “Keepin’ Warm Kit,” and it includes a bundle of fatlighter (courtesy of my dad, who found it in his yard and split it up so it’s just like the stuff they sell at L.L. Bean), hot chocolate, some spicy cheese straws and a jar of homemade green tomato relish to go with them, and a knit wool cap. The other is “Sweet, Spicy, Savory”: the muscadine jam I made this summer with plain cheese straws (the “sweet”), homemade roasted tomatillo and tomato salsa with chips (the “spicy”), and more of the green tomato relish with some rosemary crackers (the “savory”). Bounty from the Southern Urban Homestead.

"Sweet • Spicy • Savory"

I still want to make a few more hats — I can probably turn out two or three before the weekend: “Foam is Home,” “Out Past Hiawassee.” And I’m making fingerless gloves to go with some of them (I actually sold a pair of those recently to a very gifted artist friend whose studio is not heated). I am trying hard not to turn into Madame Defarge or one of those sweet but dotty ladies with cats and a house full of precious knitted objects.

That’s why I keep giving things away. I am blessed with understanding friends who have accepted my slightly eccentric creations.

The Rabun Rendezvous is this Saturday, January 23, at the Dillard House in Rabun County. The Dillard House smokes a whole pig, and we’ll pick at it starting around 5 p.m. Come on up and join us — there’s a ton of good stuff on the auction and raffle tables, incredible food, fabulous entertainment, and a superb program.

Friend with slightly eccentric creation

Plus, you’re supporting a grassroots organization that does great work cultivating the next generation of  stewards of our region’s trout fisheries and conserving, protecting, and restoring its treasures.

And you’ll definitely hear a good yarn or two.

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Reminding us that life springs back

Zinnias from my garden last summer, along with a touch of eucalyptus and rue, the herb of grace, which we could all use from time to time.

Alas, my dear friend, my laptop, has developed a case of the vapors and has taken to the spa, where she remains for at least a week. So my blogging capacity is somewhat limited.

Know, however, that life still stirs on the Southern Urban Homestead. For one thing, my seed orders have begun to arrive. For another, I have knitting news to share soon.

In the meantime, let us keep the people of Haiti in our hearts with this vivid reminder that life has this way of springing back — always.

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Tradeja: Joining the barter economy

Last fall when the economy tanked, folks began to think more deliberately about what they really need to live. Our sudden stumble into hard times exposed a nerve: if I lost everything, how would I secure food, clothing, shelter, medicine?

Tradeja eggs for honey

When you start thinking at that basic level, money becomes increasingly beside the point. Indeed, we know in the back of our minds that currency is a mere proxy for goods and services. Without actual stuff, it’s just paper and promises.

But beyond that primal fear, it’s an interesting exercise to see if you can find a value for the goods and services themselves in a money-free marketplace. In other words, to barter.

I started experimenting with bartering here and there a few years ago. A friend of mine has a home delivery dog food service with very high-quality ingredients that I know I can trust for the health of my pupster. He and his family love my eggs, so I bartered down the price of my dog food by paying him partially in eggs. And a few months ago, when I learned that a neighbor was keeping bees in his backyard and harvesting honey, we traded eggs for honey.

Tradeja a rosemary and eucalyptus wreath. This one from last year still hangs on my kitchen door. On damp days, the fragrance is divine.

As the holidays approach, a friend and I agreed the other day to trade eucalyptus from my tree for the long, gorgeous rosemary boughs she grows on her enormous bushes. Yet another neighbor brings her family’s kitchen scraps to my compost bins almost daily. And when she started her vegetable garden last spring, I repaid her contributions in finished compost. Bartering encourages a kind of interconnectedness that operates almost like a healthy little ecosystem.

Sometimes I think of it not so much in terms of a direct trade, but a micro-economy that eschews the large corporate presence which feed and feed on our addictions. When I have eggs to spare, I sell them to friends and neighbors, and that’s the money I take to the store to buy more chicken feed. Or if there is some left over, I buy cheese from a friend who keeps goats.

Tradeja a giant wreath of evergreen, pine cones, and winterberry

But really, I’d rather trade directly for other things I want and need. So let’s get started, readers: anyone up for an exchange of goods and/or services? I have eggs, some canned goods, and some fresh produce here and there. What do you have? What can we trade? Do any of you knit or sew? Are you crafty? The holidays are upon us. Can you save yourself and a few others some miserable trips to the mall?

And if you have participated in some good, creative, mutually beneficial barters, inspire us–share your stories!

Let the barters begin . . .

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“Even girls can be farmers?”

One morning this past week, at the request of a friend who teaches at the elementary school near my home, I hosted a visit of the school’s kindergarten class. According to our state’s department of education, as a southern urban homesteader, I apparently count as a “community helper.”

Kinder in the garten

The first thing the kids saw when they arrived was the garden. I explained that some plants like lots of hot weather to grow, and some plants like cool weather. And since this was November, what was growing right now was broccoli and salad greens and beets and Swiss chard, because they like it cool. (I also explained about the Squirrel-Proof Net Tent, and that squirrels eat more than just acorns. I tried not to use bad words, but it was not easy.)

Tasting vinegar and salt in homemade dill pickles

We then moved on to the canning and preserving demonstration. We talked about what happens if you pick some green beans in the summer and then leave them in a bowl in your kitchen, thinking you’ll eat them in November–you get rotten green beans. Then we talked about how salt and vinegar helps keep food from going bad so quickly. Finally, everybody got to taste some homemade dill pickles made with homegrown cucumbers: salt and vinegar.

Mutual curiosity

After the taste test came the highlight of the visit—the chickens. There was lots of chicken talk and good questions (“What do the chickens eat?” “Are there baby chicks in those eggs?” “Why do they peck?” “Do you have any roosters? Why not?”). The chickens were just as curious about their visitors as the visitors were about the chickens. We looked at how different colored chickens lay different colored eggs. We also talked about how the eggs weren’t the only benefit from the chickens, but that their poop is great for fertilizer for the garden, so the chickens help the vegetables grow, and then they get to eat some of the vegetables. We cracked an egg open so they could see that it looks just like the ones they eat, only better!

We got the guitar out (apparently this fulfills another state requirement) and all sang a chicken song together. This is a little tune I wrote for my adorable niece. It has many verses, but here’s the one we sang:

Bok bok baaack!

What do the chickens do all day?
Peck and peck and peck and peck!
What do the chickens do all day?
Peck and peck and peck and peck!
They peck outside, they peck indoors
Take a little break then they peck some more
They’re happy and they never get bored
Peck and peck and peck and peck!

Then we sang a verse with the chickens, in their own language:

Bok bok-bok bok bok bok bok bok?
Bok bok bok bok bok bok bok!
Bok bok-bok bok bok bok bok bok?
Bok bok bok bok bok bok bok!
Bok bok baaaahk, bok bok baaaahk!
bokiebokiebok, bokie bok bok bok!
Bok bokie bok bok bok bok bok,
Bok bok bok bok bok bok bok!

It was quite the rousing chorus. Some even threw in a few funky chicken moves.

As they were leaving, one little girl asked, “So this is a farm?” I said, “Well, it has gardens and animals that are living and growing and giving us food, so I think it counts as a farm, even in the city.” Then she asked, “Even girls can be farmers?”

Here’s hoping that’s a seed sown.

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Starting with what you have: homemade pizza

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I had some sweet peppers, some tomatoes that had ripened on my kitchen counter, and garlic. In the bowl are the tomatoes, the garlic, some pesto I had made from my basil crop last summer and frozen in ice cube trays, plus a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Great bruschetta or pizza topping.

Sunday night, and once again I want to take something yummy to my weekly gathering with musical friends. The rest of those green tomatoes have turned a lovely red, and I have lots of garlic from the CSA. I also have some sweet peppers that I picked last week.

Pizza, anyone?

I have a simple and delicious recipe for pizza dough from the Everyday Greens cookbook: yeast, sugar, salt, flour, olive oil, a little cornmeal if you have it (and I do). Once I have gotten that started, I turn to the toppings. I decide to make two different pizzas.

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Roasted sweet peppers

The first is a kind of bruschetta mix: the tomatoes chopped and mixed with minced garlic, plus some pesto I had made and frozen in cubes back during the summer from my garden basil. I mix that with a little extra olive oil and salt.

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Picked and minced some oregano from the garden

For pizza number two, I roast, peel, and slice into strips the the sweet peppers. I caramelize some onion and add that to the peppers, along with a balsamic vinegar reduction. I run out into the garden and pick some fresh oregano and mince and add about a tablespoon. Then I open a can of black olives and chop them in.

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The pepper/olive/onion/balsamic/oregano mixture for one pizza

The pizza dough goes down on parchment paper sitting on a wooden pizza paddle. I add the topping, then throw some shredded mozzarella, parmesan, and asiago cheese over both pizzas. Each takes about 15 minutes at 400 degrees in the oven on a pizza stone (preheated in the oven).

And the reviews are in: one Sunday jammer said, “It was so deliciously beyond mere pizza . . . mmmmm.”

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Voila!

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Blow up yer TV, throw away yer paper, go to the . . . city?

I was never a hippie, but I was educated by a few recovering ones. The Foxfire program, a phenomenon that began in the late 1960s and still survives (albeit in an altered form) today, was invented by an idealistic young teacher who took teenagers in a Rabun County, Georgia,  high school into the local community to tape record interviews with old folks, document their Southern Appalachian wisdom and ways, and present it in a series of “oral history” books

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The Foxfire Book: Hog Dressing, Log Cabin Building, Mountain Crafts and Foods, Planting by the Signs, Snake Lore, Hunting Tales, Faith Healing, Moonshining, and Other Affairs of Plain Living

published by Doubleday. Decades ago, I was a Foxfire student.

The Foxfire books, the first of which appeared in 1971 and presented a litany of skills for “plain living,” sold millions of copies. With the earnings, the teacher established a nonprofit organization called The Foxfire Fund and bought acreage on a secluded, pastoral mountainside that everyone still calls “The Land,” and there he moved and restored a collection of log structures from other locations. He also hired several more idealistic young teachers to expand the Foxfire experiential teaching approach into music, audio and video production, and cultural preservation. Together, they lived and worked in the cabins on the property.

museum

The Foxfire "Land"

The Foxfire books were so wildly successful in large part because of timing. The Whole Earth Catalog, published regularly between 1968 and 1972 and then sporadically until 1998, had been a major force in the “Back to the Land” movement embraced by many ecologically minded young people with a sudden hunger to live simple, self-sustaining lifestyles in the country—often communally. They wanted to raise their own food, build their own solar-paneled log homes, and make their own clothes, and the Whole Earth Catalog gave them the supplies they needed. The Foxfire books taught them how to do stuff, with extensive, detailed directions on gardening, canning and preserving, hunting, home remedies, sewing, building, even moonshining if one were so inclined.

LastWholeEarthCatalog1971_jpg

The 1980s, when I was a Foxfire student, were kind of an awkward, transitional time for the program. “Back to the Land”  had soured as simple living turned out to be rather complicated, the Foxfire books were no longer selling by the millions, and the idealistic young teachers had grown somewhat cynical. But I still benefited greatly. For one thing, it set me on my editorial career path. For another, I learned how to do a few useful things like make wine, de-scent a skunk, and ask good questions. And the recovering hippie teachers introduced me to important things like The Utne Reader and Joni Mitchell. Their mentoring inadvertently inspired me to leave “The Land” in search of more “sophisticated” things. I graduated from high school in 1985, and off to the big city I hied meself. But I can’t say that I never looked back. Every day I look back.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard an interview on the radio the other day with Stewart Brand, the founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, who has written a new book titled Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto, arguing that “By and large, cities are probably the greenest things that humans do.”

This, from Mr. Back-to-the-Land himself.

On a macro level, it makes a kind of counterintuitive sense. Cities—or at least the ones that don’t sprawl on forever like metro Atlanta and Houston—concentrate people in smaller geographic areas, giving the open spaces a break. Brand also calls himself “a big fan” of slums. He says that people who live in gigantic squatter cities are “moving up what’s called the energy ladder, toward more and better, greater electricity.”

I’m not sure I fully understand that last argument, but it does raise an interesting question for me: Where does the urban homestead fit into this scenario?

While it is the most densely populated city in Georgia, Decatur is hardly a slum. It has lovely homes and a high average household income and great schools and beautiful greenspaces and a strong environmental ethic that plays out in built environments informed by “New Urbanism” principles. And I live comfortably on a nice piece of property with just enough space for gardens and critters. Can the principles of urban homesteading apply in places like Mumbai (think Slumdog Millionaire)? Are the ideals that Foxfire represented to me, those notions of “plain living,” not only possible but even environmentally preferable in an urban setting?

I haven’t read Brand’s book yet, and I wonder if he ventures into this question. Perhaps he considers community gardens. Or maybe he thinks about the kind of renewal taking place in cities like Youngstown, Ohio, which has been struggling economically for so long that shrinking is now part of its planning—that is, abandoned property is being returned to the earth, as gardens or protected greenspaces. Or about the “guerilla gardeners,” who enact a radical view of land rights by planting gardens on derelict properties they do not own.

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Corn grows in Monrovia

Perhaps Brand looks at rooftop gardens, or at the way agriculture asserts itself in some of the world’s poorest cities: when I was in Havana, Cuba, staying in a Soviet era high-rise in 2002, I awakened every dawn to a rooster crowing 23 floors below. And last year, in Monrovia, Liberia, I took this photograph (from a speeding car—sorry it’s so blurry) of a patch of corn growing in the middle of this city that is struggling to recover from fourteen years of devastating civil war. We saw delicious-looking fresh roasted corn sold from outdoor stands all over the place. This is not idealism; it is not an ethical or environmental choice. In Havana and Monrovia, “plain living” is survival in the ruins.

Urban homesteading, or just signs of life?  I welcome your thoughts.

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Starting with what you have

Tonight I’m getting together with some friends to play music. We do this weekly, and usually we try to bring a bit of something to munch on as we socialize before we sit down with our instruments.

tomatillos, tomatos, and cilantro

tomatillos, tomatoes, and cilantro

This afternoon, with the evening in mind, I did a study of those tomatillos in the bottom drawer of my fridge (if you’ve been following the harvest, then you know they’ve been collecting for some time now). I also have a number of green tomatoes on my countertop, collected from the vines before I yanked them up a couple of weeks ago. Some of them—surprise!—turned red before I could bread them and fry them.

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Roasted tomatoes and tomatillos

Then I recalled the cilantro seeds I’d tossed into the dirt back in September. They’ve sprouted and are coming along nicely in this cool weather, so I pinched a few leaves. Add to that a couple of the jalapeño peppers I picked a few days ago,  and what do you have? The start of a mighty fine salsa.

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Jalapeños and garlic roasting

So I roasted the tomatillos and tomatoes under a broiler, and I skillet-roasted the jalapeños along with some garlic (from my CSA) on top of the stove. Chopped a bit of white onion and the cilantro.

I scraped the tomatillos and tomatoes—juice, skins and all—plus the peppers and garlic into the food processor and pulsed until it was chunky. Added in the onion (which I had minced and rinsed), cilantro, a pinch of sugar, a generous teaspoon of salt, and a squeeze of lime juice. Darn tasty, and took about 20  minutes.

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Voila!

Instead of thinking, Now, what do I want to take to the Sunday jam tonight?, I started with what I had: tomatillos that were going to rot if I didn’t use them, the last red tomatoes of the year, jalapeños, garlic, onion. Add to that stuff I keep around anyway (salt, sugar, limes), and it’s not too difficult to get creative and come up with something delicious in about the same amount of time it would have taken me to drive to the store and pick up something for tonight. It was cheaper, too.

Of course, it’s just luck that I happen to have a bag of tortilla chips in the pantry to go with it!

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What I learned from a bunch of city chicks, part the second

Chicks and the City underway at the Southern Urban Homestead

The Chicks in the City class meets at the Southern Urban Homestead

We began this tale with a look at one flockkeeper’s beginnings, the growing fascination around my neighborhood as word got out that there were actual chickens in my backyard, and a brief account of the first Cluckapalooza.

In the meantime, a local environmental education nonprofit, the Oakhurst Community Garden, had asked my neighbors and me to develop a two-hour workshop for area folks interested in keeping chickens themselves. Not sure our nascent knowledge really qualified us to lead such a class, we put together a syllabus on topics ranging from local ordinances and coop design to breed selection and health issues. In October 2004, we offered the first “Chicks in the City,” a two-hour workshop for ten people. Not only did the class fill up, but it was over-enrolled and still had a waiting list. And so it has gone every time we teach it (which we did regularly until last year). We even taught it to an SRO crowd of eighty people at this year’s Georgia Organics conference.

Our students came from Atlanta’s in-town neighborhoods as well as the suburbs and exurbs. Some grew up with chickens themselves, or, more frequently, they would say, “My grandmother kept chickens. I used to love to gather eggs.” Some were trying to convince a spouse they can do this successfully; others had recently begun keeping chickens and come with specific questions.

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People who take Chicks in the City learn to keep birds from hatchlings on.

Most impressive to us, however, were the experienced flock keepers who simply wanted to meet other like-minded folks. A neurosurgical nurse who took the class had been keeping chickens for several years when she enrolled one winter. She keeps thirty chickens on her three and one-half acres on the outskirts of Atlanta, but she acquired her first chick while living in an apartment complex in Decatur. “I would take her out and let her graze in the grass,” she told me, “and she was completely tame and knew where she lived and would go up the stairs to the apartment. I had lived there ten years, and people I had never spoken to who had lived there just as long ended up coming over to see the chickens.”

In hopes of encouraging workshop “alumni” to keep in touch and share ideas and inspiration, we set up a newsgroup at yahoo.com for the growing community of chicken keepers in our area. The “Citychickens” group members trade advice about local breeders, ideas for coop designs, predator updates (anyone else noticed how the hawk and owl population has boomed along with the chicken population intown?), advice about where—or where not—to acquire birds.

Another workshop alumnus, a local Waldorf School teacher, introduced his third-graders to flockkeeping. His students helped build the coop, and they are responsible for the birds’ daily care—food; water; a clean, comfortable shelter; and some free-range time each day. “Most of the children love it, but they also have learned that it takes some effort and discipline,” he said. “I think they’re learning to respect the tasks and the chickens.”

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The volunteer-built coop at the Oakhurst Community Garden in Decatur

In autumn 2005, a similar desire to connect kids to their natural environment drove another expansion of Decatur’s chicken-centered community. A group of volunteers—mostly parents of young children—designed and built a chicken coop at the Oakhurst Community Garden, which owns an acre and a half of greenspace that serves as an outdoor classroom for environmental education. Soon five laying hens were installed—another demonstration of how community and sustainable living really do nourish one another. The Oakhurst Garden inaugurated “Team Chicken,” a spirited collective of six families who share in the volunteer care of the birds, from the morning and evening check and feeding to weekend coop-cleaning chores.

The team, most of whom had never been around chickens, have shared the challenges of learning to care for the birds, rejoiced together over the arrival of eggs, and even grieved together when they lost a hen to egg yolk peritonitis. One mother of two young daughters offered to coordinate Team Chicken “because I really wanted to get more involved in the community,” she said. “I’ve focused so much on my kids that I realized I’d been very disconnected. We wanted the chickens to be a part of the community landscape for our kids, because I had seen how kids interacted with them.”

She added that her early morning chicken chores at the Oakhurst Garden have also taken on a much-needed contemplative dimension for her. “Sometimes I take my older daughter with me, but I like going over alone, too. Sunday mornings are so quiet—I hear the birds as I walk over. It’s very rewarding, to feel for a moment like I’m amidst nature, or at least closer to it.”

That longing for both solitude and society caught the interest of an anthropologist friend of mine. She has pursued a study of how urban dwellers are increasingly appreciating such opportunities to reconnect with nature and one another. She began with a survey of Team Chicken, asking them to respond “yes” or “no” to statements such as, “I want to deepen my sense of connection to this place where I live,” and, “This work lets me be more connected with my family’s farming past.” For some, she found, the power of engagement with nature is very powerful. It’s restorative, as well; people see these activities as important for their mental health. It’s an ethical activity, too—some of the respondents like that they’re living more sustainably on the earth. For others, the work is fun and also connected to deep spiritual values. The fascination the children feel is often shared by their parents and neighbors—the chickens become a focus for neighborhood interaction and friendliness.

Four years into the Team Chicken experiment, the birds at the Oakhurst Garden are thriving, and so are their caregivers. A few challenges have cropped up along the way, but mostly it’s confusion about the schedule. A staff member at the Garden often fills the gaps, and the group mounted a flagpole on the coop to help signal that the birds had been let out or tucked up for the evening. Good, reliable email communication and the occasional group meeting at the coop seems to help.eggs

With the chicks we acquired for the Southern Urban Homestead this past spring, our flock is up to eleven birds. We get eggs that are cream-colored, blue, green, chocolate brown, and almost red. And later this month, a kindergarten teacher will be bringing her students over to visit. Apparently, as an urban homesteader, I’m a “community helper,” according to the Georgia state department of education.

Makes sense to me.

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