Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Heather Wants Chickens

In 1976, my family moved from San Diego to rural Pennsylvania where my great-grandfather and his third wife, Grandma Dot, lived on a farm. We lived 1/4 mile up a dirt road (now marked as Slatertown Rd on Google maps) from Grandma Dot for the next 7 years. I have vivid memories of her vegetable garden, homemade noodles, cats (3 indoors and at least a dozen outdoors), dogs, and chickens. The chickens pecked around the yard and laid colorful eggs. I remember the smell of the coop, and the privilege of being sent to hunt for eggs. I also remember getting pecked on the hands and feet; it hurt!

Painful pecks aside, I have good feelings about vegetable gardening and chicken farming from those years "on the farm." My extended family always refers to our home in Pennsylvania as "the farm" even though the house was a few miles from my grandfathers actual farm on Wheeler Rd. By the time I lived there my grandfather's health was deteriorating and farming was slowing down. At the farm, he had a handful of beef cows, a few old horses, and a few dozen acres of hay.

Any family farming knowledge seems to have stayed with that generation. I don't believe that my grandparents ever had a vegetable garden or raised any livestock after they moved away from Pennsylvania in the 1950s. Modern life was fully embraced by that generation of my family! I don't remember any of my grandparents growing or preserving food. My parents on the other hand started gardening fairly early in their marriage; I recall carrots and tomatoes growing in our little condo patio garden in Southern California before we moved back to the farm. In Pennsylvania, we had a large garden, but didn't raise any livestock. We did, however, eat beef from GreatGrandpa's farm and both chickens and eggs from GreatGrandma Dot's coop.

Since moving away from Pennsylvania with my parents in 1983, I've lived in a succession of large towns and cities: Yakima, WA; Dubuque, IA; Houston, TX; Dallas, TX; Spokane, WA; and now, Tacoma, WA. I tried to grow some vegetables in Houston, but met with dismal failure. After that, I didn't try to grow any plants for about 7 years. In Yakima, I had a bumper tomato crop, but then moved again the next spring. Now that I'm settled in a lovely home in suburbia, I've started gardening again. I planted a very crowded garden box last year and have plans for more garden space this spring. But until recently, I had not even thought about trying to raise chickens. Chickens in the city? I mean, the suburbs?

I first started thinking about raising chickens when we joined a CSA last spring. One requirement for membership in this particular CSA is a visit to the farm. I was so surprised to find that it wasn't really "in the country" like my grandfather's farm, but rather in a barely rural area tucked in between Tacoma and it's sprawl. I saw the chickens sharing room with the farm's cats and roaming among the goats, pigs, sheep and cows. Cheryl, our CSA lady, explained how all of the animals worked together with her gardening. Their manure fertilized and the chickens ate bugs and slugs. Cheryl sells the eggs and chickens through her CSA and at local farmers markets. We've been eating her eggs, and the fresh eggs are so much better than grocery store eggs.

Shortly after our farm visit, I discovered that it is legal to have hens in the city limits of Tacoma; my imagination was activated and I thought, "I want chickens!" But I have many unrealistic ideas. Could it be possible to successfully raise chickens at my house? Would my dog chase them? Kill them? Would I be tied down, unable to travel because the chickens need to be fed and their eggs put in the fridge? Would they smell? Would the neighbors hate me? The questions multiplied and doubt ensued.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I wish I had a Grandma Dot -- you're so lucky! Hey, this is gonna be a great adventure, AND we've already got a Chicklet so we're a success right out of the gate -- whoo-hoooooo!!