The Zen of Chickens: the first of several posts on urban farming and backyard gardening

IMG_4757I love back yard gardening…it’s one of the best and most economical ways to take control of your food source, not to mention lessen your reliance on the grocery store, if even just a little.  I could be easily persuaded to take up farming as a new occupation, but for now, it’s not in the cards.  Add to that some chickens and bees and I’d be one happy backyard farmer.  Maybe the title “farmer” would be a stretch, but something I would surely be enamored by.

However for the past two years, we were lucky enough to fall into the great fortune of joining a local chicken co-op just a few minutes from our home.  Our kids also attend the only public Charter Montessori in the US that runs from pre-K-12th grade.  As a part of the community, the school has a complete working farm that fits neatly into Dr. Montessori’s teaching.  Despite dog and cat allergies, we’re an animal loving family and the co-op offered an exceptional source for farm fresh eggs.  More importantly however, is the experience of knowing where some of our food comes from and the work involved in getting it home.

The co-op started with almost 40 chicks and a dozen or so eager families.  Nine of the chicks we raised ourselves in our own home for a few months.  It was fun for the first 3-4 weeks…then when they tripled in size yet lived in the same box, the dust and noise got old rather quickly!  What an experience for everyone though.  The co-op’s intention was not to get cheap eggs, but when the eggs did start coming, they were exceptional.  They were all we had heard about of a farm fresh egg, with bright yellow/orangey firm yolks and non-runny whites.  The taste of a 5 minute poached egg from the farm is out of this world.  A few times I would collect a warm egg from the coop, and it was in the pan 20 minutes later.  Nothing better.

IMG_4764For our own needs, we have the best source at the moment, and we know how lucky we are to have the opportunity.  It’s nice to know more and more families are becoming backyard farmers, and some are even selling excess eggs.  Many municipalities are quickly changing regulations to accommodate this trend too.  If you buy from a local or backyard chicken farmer, be sure you know what the chickens are eating, and visit the coop before you buy. Remember, chickens are omnivores. They really should have full access to the outside air/and the earth underfoot.  In a true free range scenario, they would have access to grasses, bugs, worms, and grubs in addition to some supplemental organic grains and tons of your green waste from the kitchen.  You would think they were never fed when I would arrive with a bag of kitchen waste….it was devoured within minutes.  In a more perfect world, mimicking nature is how Joel Salatin runs his Polyface Farm in Virginia (we got to visit a few years ago, and loved it).  He explains how he rotates his livestock through each paddock, and why the soil, growing grass, and each animal is so critical to one another in this brief video.

In my opinion, eggs are truly an exceptional food source, and finally research is backing this more and more.  Many people avoid eggs due to the misunderstanding that they contribute to high cholesterol, but studies have shown that even an egg a day does not change your cholesterol levels.  Vani Hari (aka the Food Babe) says in a recent cooking segment/blog post that yolks are good for the brain, even helping to protect us from Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  She pointed out David Perlmutter MD gets into detail on this in his book ‘Grain Brain’.  Even Dr Oz chimed in by saying to “ditch the egg-white-only mantra!”  He goes on in detail to saying how “yolks contain the bulk of the egg’s nutrients, including minerals like calcium and magnesium and vitamins A, D, E, B6, B12 … the list goes on! In fact, eggs are loaded with so many nutrients that some scientists suggest a few eggs a day could provide a bigger health insurance policy than a multivitamin. They have 100% of the carotenoids essential for healthy eyes, protecting them against vision loss. Eggs are also rich in protein and an energy-sustaining food that helps stave off fatigue.”

It is my hope that sustainable farming and livestock practices will gain more and more prevalence, and that a chicken (or two) in every backyard will help sway the trend away from massive, commercial egg farms.  Despite the premise of an automated and sterile environment in which commercial egg farms are operated, the exact opposite results occur.  Sick birds are commonplace despite regular antibiotic use.  Contaminated eggs are not uncommon, including a massive egg recall back in 2010.  This is much more common here in America than anywhere else.  An article discussing eggs and refrigeration makes a similar point.  Finally, it’s no surprise that nutrient content is also being questioned in factory farmed vs free range, organic farmed chickens/eggs, as discussed in more detail here .

Our backyard garden and the chicken co-op work well for us.  We also tried out a first year CSA that shares space on the same farm as the chickens.  The produce was exceptional, although I think we will stick with my own garden this next season, as I work to increase production every year.  There are many options to take back your food, and know where it comes from.  The internet offers a plethora of resources to learn backyard chickening, and my hope is to have more families give it a try.

“True healthcare reform starts in your kitchen, not in Washington”  ~Anonymous

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