People always seem to come together through agriculture. This makes a lot of sense – the advent of agriculture many thousands of years ago gave rise to sedentary communities that were once nomadic and centered around hunting and gathering. People congregate where there is a project – like farming – to be undertaken together, as a group.
Growing up on a farm, our small town was a tiny slice of rural culture where folks would assemble at the weekend farmers’ market, at the feed store or the agricultural co-op, or at the annual county agricultural fair.
That little slice of agricultural community is something that I’ve sorely missed in New York. But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t congregating, on a smaller scale, all around the city!
A few months ago, I came across a charming, and moving, story in the New York Times: “Chicken Vanishes, Heartbreak Ensues.” You might have already read it, but it’s a really lovely story of how a community can form around agricultural practice – even if the people in that community didn’t know how much they were coming together while they were doing so!
In the neighborhood of Bed-Stuy, a family was keeping a family of chickens in the front yard of their home, facing the sidewalk. Having chickens in the front yard caught the attention of the community’s residents, and the author talks to the ability of the chickens to bring folks together: “The admirers came in droves… In a neighborhood fraught with the tensions of gentrification, making people talk to one another, and talk about something other than themselves, is not an insignificant accomplishment. What I’m saying is that these chickens are important in ways that chickens aren’t usually important. They are Bed-Stuy’s very own peace doves.”
The story goes on to talk about how their prize hen, Getrude, was stolen one night and the tremendous uproar this caused in the community – folks talked about where the chicken might have gone, offered help in finding the thief to the owners, left signs and banners of support on the fence of their property. Eventually the chicken was returned by a very guilty young man who admitted to stealing the chicken in a drunken dare. And, wonderfully, the return of the chicken caused a great positive reaction throughout the neighborhood.
Chickens, bringing people together like that, and in a place like New York City – who would have thought?
Chicken keeping in the city is a growing hobby. The Huffington Post noted a growing trend of chicken keeping in NYC as far back as 2009. Indeed, for the aspiring chicken-keeper, Just Food, our own local urban agriculture advocacy organization, runs the City Chicken Project.
Funded entirely by member donations, the City Chicken Project offers several resources for city gardeners and farmers who raise chickens. They publish the City Chicken Guide, run chicken workshops, and have a Just Food City Chicken Meetup in NYC which brings together chicken hobbyists from disparate backgrounds.
Urban chickens get people excited! It’s a strange animal to cause such allure, but it certainly adds a lot of vibrancy to city life. And, considering the impacts that the industrial chicken and egg industries have on the environment, urban chickens certainly help improve our sustainability here in the city, as well.