Monday, June 27, 2011

truck farm

With Hank and Max off to the land of the stately pine, I've had quite a lot of time on my hands since yesterday morning and not enough hands and strong backs to make any progress on the coop. Fortuitously, there were two events of note to the local food movement community yesterday and this evening. Yesterday was the First Annual Midwest Sustainable Backyard Tour, wherein 30 or so folks who are doing very cool green stuff opened their yards and properties for a self-guided tour. I knew there was no way I could make it to all the properties, so I made a list of my choices--based on a matrix of proximity, chickens and networking--and downloaded sequential directions for my personal tour. There were so many I wanted to see but could not fit in!

It's a shameful admission for a labor lawyer, but I don't really think of myself as an activist. Part of why I like "the law" is that ideally, if you get a good judge and you find the right cases and argue your facts well, you should get the right result even if you don't have a lot of power on your side. But it is becoming clear to me that the City Council is not going to operate like that idealized version of "the law." The City Council is (surprise) political! And the wheels of politics turn because of power. Power can mean money or, as I think it does here, an impressive number of voices all unified behind a common goal. The City Council has surely begun to hear from the chicken-haters, who are, of course, entitled to voice their ill-informed, factually bereft, misgallistic (yes I just coined that term) opinions. The trick will be to make sure that the Council hears more powerfully from the pro-chicken lobby, which is dedicated but nascent.

To mobilize the chicken-positive community will require some community organizing. I considered the advice I give clients in preparation for bargaining about building their power base. I needed to build the chicken power base by reaching out to like-minded people and helping them understand how our cause fit with their interests. It was easy to identify the most likely targets for our message: the sustainability folks, the slow food movement, the farmers' market bunch. And what better way to get out the message than to leaflet? So I drafted a leaflet with all the best talking points ("Help Keep Backyard Chickens Legal!"), opened a dedicated email address for the cause to collect names (enabling me to rally the troops as needed), and printed it on some bright green paper that had been destined for the recycle bin.

My first stop on the backyard tour was the only one in my municipality--and a beautiful one at that. Here is where I have once again fallen down as a documentarian because I utterly failed to take pictures. I was so excited to see what Deanna had going on in her yard (food crops EVERYWHERE, ponds, rain barrels, a beehive...) and so excited about delivering my message (and leaving a stack of flyers on her card table which seemed set up just for that purpose) that I totally neglected to photograph anything. Argh.

Next stop was at Merryl Winstein's marvelous place, where the main attraction was a lovely flock of hens and a gregarious small herd of milk goats! (maybe next year?) Again, no pictures, but at least you can go to her website and take a look. And there were lots of friendly people who seemed supportive of our cause.

Next stop was in the city proper, to a yard that could not have been tidier or more beautifully planted with flowering plants--and which also happened to contain this darling coop and four sweet girls:
See, I took a picture, finally!
I picked up some useful coop-building tips talking to this one's builder and proud flock-tender.

Another stop took me to the third of an acre lot of the Villareal Family Farm, where they have thrown themselves into transforming their suburban lot into an incredibly productive small-scale farm. It reminds me a little of what we did on our builder's half-acre in Ft. Lauderdale, although our focus was more strongly on fruit and of course we didn't have chickens like they do!

Everywhere I went, I left piles of flyers and I came away with a few thoughts, unrelated to the organizing effort. First, it takes a fair amount of work to make food production aesthetically pleasing to the typical suburban eye. But clearly, it can be done. Second, I probably don't need to insulate my coop. The tidy coop above was uninsulated and even had a vent that stays open year-round. But we'll see. Third, the single most devastating predator in our area is hawks. Tidy coop has no protection from diggers and lots of visible gaps that could be enlarged to admit a predator. But those hens were 3 years old and had never had a problem. In the early evenings they also range free in the yard, which is fenced on two sides with only 4' chain link (the other sides being house and wooden privacy fence).  But everyone talked of hawk sightings and two reported losses from hawks. Good to know. More than anything, the tour inspired me to put in the labor on our yard such that I feel confident putting it on the roster for next year's sustainable backyard tour!

The other local food event was tonight--a screening at the Schlafly Bottleworks of a wonderful little film called Truck Farm. If you have the opportunity to see it, do. I found the music a little annoying at first but (alas) came away humming some of the amusingly inane little tunes after all. But more important than the music was the message of the film, which follows the conversion of a pick-up truck bed into a small-scale, mobile garden. The film ties that project to roof gardens, wall gardens, urban community gardens and a barge set up (including chickens!) to fully sustain four humans. The message is, we humans need a lot of food, food is best when it is grown close by so that we eat it shortly after it leaves the we should be growing food wherever we can, close to where we live. 

And to that I say, Amen. And here, take a leaflet!

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