As a child, I dreamed of chickens.
When, after drawing up plans in my diary, I pitched the idea of a coop in our backyard at my mom’s bedside one Saturday morning, she only pleaded “Go back to bed!” Saturday morning was not the best time to choose, but the idea was pretty much doomed to failure. In Mom’s mind, vegetable gardening, canning, and preserving were drudgery, roadblocks stopping a woman from becoming an artist or writer. Her memories of her own mother cutting up apples for applesauce or stirring steaming tomatoes were all cast as Depression negatives. If you could buy a can of tomatoes at the grocery store for a few cents, why would you hang over a boiling pot in August? The word “organic” or “commercially grown” and all these describe were not on her horizon.
My dad on the other hand was a great gardener, but focused on roses – 200 varieties thrived spotless in his gardens, regularly dosed with fungicide. To either of my parents, raising chickens would have been way too hippie for any normal 1970s suburban landscape. But in my young mind, living off the land, growing my own food, always seemed like an adventure. I was impressed by our neighbors huge garden beds, beekeeping, and canning projects. I noticed that growing food didn’t stop them from pursuing other dreams, as a lawyer and a history teacher.
Years later I fell in love with a gardener myself, who was the son and grandson of gardeners, and began to learn how it’s done. Bit by bit together we have turned our lawn into garden beds. We love and aspire to the idea that there is a way to fit it all together – that you can have a nice looking yard, and also raise food out of it.
When about 2008 I began to build a chicken house in the driveway out of scrap lumber (scrap to prove it could be economical, and not just a frivolous hobby) my oldest stepson shook his head and grinned. “I give you six months,” he said. But I proceeded, following the advice of friends whose chicken keeping I had been studying. Certainly I was not the first to think that chickens did not have to live out on a farm. I secured permission from my neighbors, and set the chickies up on mulch to control odors.
Six years later, about fifteen vegetable garden beds surround our home, with a chicken coop and run on the corner of our 1/2 acre lot. We have just shifted to the “paddock” method of handling the chickens, definitely the best in a suburban landscape (see Paul Wheaton’s site – permies.com).
We’ve learned so much from our experiences, good and bad, from reading, from talking to better gardeners. We’ve learned enough to feel certain that you or anyone can grow a lot of your own food in suburbia. Every year there’s more to understand about how to do it better, cleaner, kinder, and more productively. You gotta love the process it’s true — and we do.