Once upon a time there was a little boy who spent much of his day inside buildings, engaged with animated screens, and away from Nature. Occasionally he could be found to be playing in the backyard or riding his bike, but very often a sense of depression came over him about the uselessness of it all – of his existence. In the wee hours of the night, when cuddled up with Mom or Dad and a bedtime book he’d drift off into listless apathy musing about where his life was going.
This went on for some time. Years, in fact. Many hours with a therapist were spent trying to “solve” his problem – but, to no avail. More extracurricular activities, maybe? More sunshine, less dairy, more football camps? Even a trip to Alaska was short lived in its reward of happiness.
In his household there were often several magazines and books lying around on gardening, building cabins, and country living. The Mom would love to read these and daydream about moving to a farm one day, while still trying to garden in the backyard in their city plot. Then one day a chicken catalog arrived in the mail (they probably got her name from one of the magazine’s mailing lists).
The boy was intrigued… buy chickens? Live chickens? He had always loved visiting the cousins’ farm and peeking in on the chickens when he visited. There was something about their pleasant cooing and wide-eyed watching that interested him.
“Can we get chickens?” he asked his Mom. She didn’t want to commit to a promise just yet, so they sat down to look through the catalog.
Months passed as the planning steps took place. Lessons about responsibility, persistence, husbandry, importance to details, and the rewards of patience were woven into the planning. The family was finally able to raise their tiny flock of backyard chickens. The boy joined 4H and learned all about raising and showing them. With pride he took his best hen to the county fair and expertly showed her off to the judges. His blue ribbons were kept for many years to come.
The above story is fiction, of course, but with a degree of alarming accuracy.
Let’s step back a moment to look at what’s underlying the interest in urban chickens and agriculture. Consider the reality that the modern food industry has sterilized our understanding and appreciation of the importance and complexity of providing a safe reliable food supply on our tables. Slick advertising doesn’t want us to know the dark side of factory farms and the treatment of animals that give their very lives to make our breakfast.
And now organic vegetables and meats, or products touting “natural” have rapidly achieved dedicated shelf space in not only the specialty stores, but the major food chains.
Urban Chickens is a movement that is taking root in many cities and towns across our nation and is not intended to replace the industry of food production, but is a grass roots, citizen driven, response to the alienation or disconnect that has evolved over decades between the farmer and the consumer.
Change is hard, especially change that is very difficult to visualize. Understandably the concept may initially call up unpleasant childhood experiences of farm living complete with the unsanitary treatment of waste and unsophisticated management of large numbers of animals.
The Urban Chicken movement is sensitive to these concerns and has responded with reasonable and easily followed guidelines. Such things as a maximum of four hens, no roosters, sanitary bedding and waste treatment virtually makes their presence a non-issue for many neighbors.
The purpose of this short allegory is to show another side of the issue: the benefit to children and families in keeping a few urban hens. Why not be satisfied with dogs and hamsters? Moving into the arena of keeping animals that can provide your daily breakfast is a powerful lesson in awareness about food – food sources and food choices.
With obesity and lethargy growing at a rampant rate among kids today, the tending of food-producing animals in a mindful way could make a significant positive influence in a child’s life. It’s a prime example to show that food isn’t manufactured in a grocery store, never to run out. Offering the lesson that food comes from living things and should be respected is never a worthless idea.
And chickens might just be the avenue to lift a child out or depression and give them a glimmer of purpose in life. For me it’s not so much about the chickens – it’s about my son, and offering him a multitude of positive life lessons and a reason to get up in the morning… and feed the chickens.