(dana) Tue 23 Jun 09 07:30
We're very pleased to welcome Novella Carpenter to the Inkwell. Novella Carpenter is a journalist covering food, culture, and farming. Her work has appeared in Mother Jones, Food and Wine, sfgate.com, Salon.com, and others. Her memoir "Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer", was published by Penguin Press this June. Leading the discussion is Sharon Fisher. Sharon is a writer and chicken owner who moved from the Bay Area *to* Idaho. She is a seventh-degree member of the Grange who is interested in sustainable and organic agriculture. She has been on the Well since 1986. In addition to a rooster and a dozen hens, she has nine ducks, five rabbits, two house cats, and about 16 barn cats and kittens. She gave up on the goose, and thinks longingly of milk goats and weaner pigs. Welcome, farmers!
Sharon Fisher (slf) Tue 23 Jun 09 08:08
<scribbled by slf Tue 23 Jun 09 09:11>
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Tue 23 Jun 09 09:12
Yee haw. Novella, I'd like to thank you for coming to the Well to discuss your book. I've been surprised at how much interest there is here in things like raising one's own chickens, and there's a growing realization in general that raising one's own meat, as well as vegetables, is possible and desirable. I gather you've gotten more attention from your book than you expected? What sort of response have you gotten thus far? And what do you think is driving it?
Novella Carpenter (novellacarpent) Wed 24 Jun 09 10:10
hi sharon; as a farmer, i'd like to apologize for my technophobic tardiness to the forum! it's good to be here. i've been totally surprised by the response to Farm City. i'm on tour right now and have been meeting tons of people saying they want to get chickens or bees, or they have chickens and want to get goats. it's really cool. i also get emails from people who say they've read my book and now they're employing methods that i used in the book (like dumpster-diving for animal food). i think there are three things driving it. one is the recession. people are really worried about money but they want to eat quality food. the other is fear about ecoli and salmonella in the food supply. it's terrifying. so people want to take control of their food security. another thing is that people are sick of the elitism of slow food, which many people see as rich people eating arugula. if you're a poor person like me, i can afford to grow my own arugula. it's very empowering.
Eric Gower (gower) Wed 24 Jun 09 12:06
Just opened the book and read Chapter 1. People, our dear guest starts off by swabbing blocked baby chick butts with q-tips. Something tells me I'm going to power through this quickly!
(dana) Wed 24 Jun 09 13:05
(Note: Offsite readers with questions or comments may have them added to this conversation by emailing them to email@example.com -- please include "Farm City" in the subject line.)
Area Woman (booter) Wed 24 Jun 09 14:32
Welcome, Novella. Nice to see you here! I just spent my lunch time at a friend's house, cradling two day old chicks in my hands. When I was 4, I used to fantasize that a bird would land in my hands and make a nest. I realized this while holding a little Barred Rock in my hands. It was a pretty cool thing, let me tell ya! Anyway. Novella, I am curious about your choice of rabbits. The way you described them, they sounded like the kind of smallish rabbit that people keep as pets. I don't know a lot about meat rabbit production - I just assume meat rabbits are large and white. What breed are the rabbits you were raising as described in the book? I was thinking of huge ones like German giants and so on. (PS to my friends, yes I have a pet rabbit, but I know some are for eatin' and some are for pettin') Also, the hog thing. I guess if I were your neighbor, the thrill would wear off pretty fast.:-) It also sounded like exhausting work. Have you done another round of Fine Swine or have you moved on to less complicated (and hungry) animals?
John Payne (satyr) Wed 24 Jun 09 19:27
What about pigeons, which typically do well in urban environments even without being housed and fed?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Wed 24 Jun 09 22:16
Ironically, perhaps appropriately, I came home after being away for a couple of days to the sort of thing that us animal husbandry people dread: four of the five rabbits dead, the other missing, and all three hutches torn open by ...something. (Also two dead kittens.) It's a terrible feeling, thinking of how the poor animals for which I am responsible died. <satyr>, I don't hear much about people raising pigeons for food.
David Gans (tnf) Wed 24 Jun 09 22:44
Sharon, our sympathies! Novella, what about all the geese at Lake Merritt? Edible?
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Jun 09 07:33
One of the questions that comes up in raising chickens, is what to do with them when they reach the end of their useful life -- that is, when they stop laying eggs regularly. Some people say to just keep them around. Some people say to butcher them. Some people say chickens that old are too tough for eating anyway. What is it you do?
David Gans (tnf) Thu 25 Jun 09 09:18
My friends with an organic farm in North Fork do not believe in eating their laying hens. After a lifetime of service, these chickens are given proper burials.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Jun 09 09:22
But what do they do in-between the laying and burial part? Continue feeding them?
(dana) Thu 25 Jun 09 09:40
A friend of mine is currently dealing with this issue. His wife, a massage therapist and a very gentle person, will not allow him to off any birds. The population is building in their suburban bay area backyard, and he is really getting tired of the racket they make. We won't have that problem. Our barred rock is a dual-purpose bird and will definitely end up in the oven. The leghorn is kind of skimpy on the meat, but she'll be soup in the end, if nothing else.
David Gans (tnf) Thu 25 Jun 09 10:54
Yes, Sharon, the post-menopausal hens live out their days in (relative) luxury.
post-menopausal hens live out their days in (relative) luxury. (stet) Thu 25 Jun 09 11:01
now that's a pseud!
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Jun 09 11:37
>soup in the end, if nothing else I have a friend who says that even for soup or stock, old hens just aren't worth it. I haven't tried it myself because a) I'm a softy and b) even my old hens lay eggs once in a while. Which brings up the question of what to do in winter. Chickens lay so many eggs in their lifetimes. They lay less in the winter because of less light. Some people put artificial lights in the hen house, which results in more eggs but an earlier henopause for the chickens.
Novella Carpenter (novellacarpent) Thu 25 Jun 09 15:27
sharon--i'm so sorry to hear about your loss. it's a very big deal when something dies at the hands of a predator. i lost two roosters once who had clearly fought valiantly to save their ladies (all the hens were fine but they were mortally wounded by a dog, i believe.) re: eating an older hen. what's neat about farming is you get to decide. although it seems like recently we've become uncomfortable with the idea that humans are in charge, with farming it is very clear. so i think it's great that people let their hens live on; and i think it's great when they make them into soup (an old hen is really too tough for the oven or even stewing in wine). the main concern is economics--if you can afford to continue to feed a hen who doesn't lay eggs and that's what you want to do, that's fine. but most farmers don't have extra money and that's where the culling comes into play. re: rabbits. my bunnies are a new zealand california cross bred for meat eating. those giant flemish are (from what i've heard) difficult to kill (so big!) and their meat:bone ratio is not favorable. i'm now introducing some fur genes into the rabbits with a silver fox female, so i'll soon have some really nice pelts.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Jun 09 15:40
ooo, pelts. sounds nice. Have you found someone to buy them? How did you do that? I hear two schools of thought on the "raising animals you're going to kill" issue -- one being, how can you do that? and the other being, who has more of a right than the person who's raised them all their life? Roosters can be very protective of their girls, watching out for them, finding food for them, and kicking their ass when they're out late.
Gary Greenberg (gberg) Thu 25 Jun 09 17:46
WE had a rooster named Napoleon Dynamite. A huge, gawky guy with asymmetrical features, always looked like he'd just rolled out of bed. He'd come out of the coop in the morning, hop on a hen or two and then leap up on top of a fence post to crow about it. Twice, I watched him fight off a red-tailed hawk, once when the hawk had a hen firmly in his grips. The chicken survived, and she wouldn't let Napoleon out of her sight for weeks. One day, not long after that incident, he started attacking me every time I entered the chicken yard. He'd come flying at me, hackles first, just above my waist unless I was bent over, in which case it was more like at my head, screeching and clawing; once I kicked at him and slipped in the mud, and he moved in for the kill, only to be chased off by my then 8-year-old son. I don't know why I put up with it--grudging respect for his sexual frankness, I suppose, plus gratitude for his protectiveness, but finally, after more than a year of constant attacks, he went tooo far. I was tending some chicks, and I put down my Napoleon stick for just a second, and he blindsided me, hopped up on my back and started pecking wildly. I shook him off, grabbed the stick and smote him. I was sorry that it came to that--a moment of violent revenge--but I guess it was only a matter of time. I buried him and even erected a stone to mark the spot.
Hugh Watkins (hughw1936uk) Thu 25 Jun 09 19:29
a pressure cooker one onion one carrot meat a "boiling fowl" or two take up to full pressure rest for 24 hours reheat and add other ingredients herbs etc eg madras curry powder minced beef or what ever one of the scandals of modern wastefulness is you cannot buy a "boiling fowl" any more (60 years on) they get mashed up for pet food this is a basic"peasant" soup I learned from my mother - also with a marrow bone instead of a chicken
Mark McDonough (mcdee) Thu 25 Jun 09 19:37
Right. I still come across recipes that call for a "stewing chicken" etc. As if.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 25 Jun 09 20:25
I used to have a rooster that attacked me. I got a new rooster, who not only was nice to me but kicked the ass of the old rooster, who stopped attacking me.
chicken herder (dana) Fri 26 Jun 09 10:53
Novella, Farm City is riding a huge wave of interest in amateur home agriculture, increasing knowledge of commercial ag issues, and an increasingly common focus on food quality. When you were scooping up fish guts in Chinatown, did you ever allow yourself to consider the possibility that you would one day be a trend setter? And do you think that the current fad of home chickens and urban homesteading is a sign of a fundamental change, or just green fashion?
Lisa Harris (lrph) Fri 26 Jun 09 11:19
This is all very interesting to me. What kind of permiting or municipal regulations have you come up against in your quest for urban ag. I know that in my town there are ordinances against keeping chickens, mostly because of cock-fighting issues in the past.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Fri 26 Jun 09 13:10
Yeah, I was planning to get to that. My impression from the book and the website is that what you're doing is actually illegal, and the only thing that's helped you thus far is that no one's turned you in? And yet the book and website make no secret of your location. How much of this was a conscious decision on your part, and what are you planning to do should the city come down on you?
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