Rachel Hurd Anger
Chicken keepers have supporters and critics everywhere. From rural career farmers to city dwellers, judgments are all over the map. Here are four types of people who have opinions about your urban farming habits. Can you name these people in your community?
1. The Encouraging Ally
The best supporter is often a rural farmer with a small but profitable business, who believes we each have a responsibility in food production, whether we buy from her farm or not. She is the urban chicken keeper’s friend. This is the farmer who encourages people to produce some food in the backyard. She might even offer workshops to teach people how to grow food or raise animals, adding another dynamic aspect to her business model. She is happy to offer chicken-keeping advice, however counterintuitive it might seem because she also raises chickens. A proponent of sustainability, she’d love to sell you eggs from her flock, but she’d prefer you to raise your own hens.
2. The Intrigued Coworker
The coworker might be mildly interested in your unique chicken-keeping hobby, but your oddity is kept at arm’s length until you gift your eggs. The various shapes and colors spark the ‘who laid this egg’ conversation. For people who don’t know much about chickens, the eggs themselves are fun educational tools. The coworker thinks of chickens on a farm and of white eggs in the grocery store. Holding a rainbow of eggs of all different sizes with a hen’s name attached merges the two worlds, putting chickens and eggs back together, and piquing curiosity.
3. The Surprised Stranger
A common non-farmer raising chickens seems outlandish to some. An older man asked my husband last weekend, “Did I hear you say you have chickens?” This person wasn’t expecting a one-word answer. He clearly inferred a faint “Why on earth … ?”
The surprised stranger is intrigued, but only because he’s discovered an opportunity to educate himself and decide if your hobby—the one he’s learning is a trend—is either socially acceptable or ridiculous. He wants hard evidence that chickens have practical benefits beyond eggs and eccentricity. In this case, my husband explained to the stranger that our chickens help produce rich compost and clean out our garden, saving us a lot of work. The man recognized that chickens have practical value, just as dryly as it seems.
4. The Discouraging Pessimist
It’s not often that I run into the ultimate critic, but I did recently run into the negative farmer-who-doesn’t-want-anyone-else-to-farm on a farm field trip with one of my children. It’s always obvious when we shouldn’t share our dabbling in progressive urban farming, so sometimes it’s best to keep our flocks secret. It’s self-preservation, like how my Polish hen plays dead in the presence of my dog.
When heavy rain didn’t stop the field trip, the farmer showed a segment of a farming film to the children, during which she called the most successful farmer in the film “foolish” for buying a small farm since the woman hadn’t grown up on one. “That was not a smart thing for her to do,” the farmer said to the room of 4th graders. Fortunately for the kids, the woman in the film proved that farm dreams could be successful with hard work and the desire to improve our food system.
As we walked to the next activity, I put my arm around my daughter, and I talked about how much I’d love a small farm like the “foolish” woman in the film, without lowering my volume. Excited, my city kid (and my biggest supporter) told me she’d love to help.
Who’s been your biggest supporter or your worst naysayer?