Guest Post: Our Chicken Story

IMG_3067Guest post from Edgewater resident Lilly Sterier:

When we moved to Tucson, Arizona from Golden at the start of 2011, I knew very little about raising chickens other than, as a chef, I really loved working with the rich yolks. We fell in love with a tiny rental home walking distance from downtown Tucson that was loaded with native, drought-resistent vegetation.

When the landlords showed us the house they took us to a spot in the backyard and said “here is where you can have your chickens. This literally was the first time we ever considered raising them. By the end of that year we were the proud owners of four sweet chicks.

I am not sure I anticipated we would enjoy them beyond the eggs, but they quickly were earning their keep for us in more ways than we expected.  We avidly compost to keep waste from our landfills, but keeping up with it was no longer a challenge as the chickens turned it over quickly for us creating a high nutrient fertilizer our farming friends loved to receive when we cleaned out their straw bedding. Our compost went from taking weeks to merely days for an even higher value product that we now use for our own gardens here in Edgewater.

Black widows and other similar critters became less of an issue as the chickens gobbled up these tasty treats. This felt especially important since our young daughter was toddling around at the time looking in every nook and cranny as she explored our backyard.

Speaking of her, she absolutely adored our chickens from a tiny age. She figured out how to pick them up and carry them around. Today, she loves to watch them, feed them leftover food, and helps us care for them.

When we moved back to Colorado in 2013, we looked for a community that did not restrict chickens. This was important to us, we knew we wanted to start a new flock as soon as baby chicks were available in the spring.

Prior to getting the chickens here we spoke with our neighbors surrounding us about our plans. They were excited and intrigued by our desire. One neighbor asked that we not keep a rooster, which we agreed to easily. When it became apparent that one of our chickens was a rooster we did not keep him.

The neighbor children love to come and check on the hens, feed them, gather their eggs and experience where our food actually comes from. We have been fortunate to share eggs with each neighbor periodically when our laying ladies are especially prolific. One family has started asking us about how to garden vegetables and they have talked about getting chickens themselves.

Essentially, these families, who we often see buying fast food for dinner, are now asking us how to eat sustainably. When you observe others sourcing delicious food close to home, it is easy to crave as well. In many ways, our chickens have brought us closer to our neighbors. We did not anticipate the many ways chickens have helped us grow community when we were in Tucson and now in Edgewater.

Living in Tucson was not just a chicken experience for my family. The neighborhood we moved into was very urban, as I said, it was just a walk from downtown. But, within our small barrio, there were farmers running a CSA out of relatively small backyards, a duo of large goats with five families sharing the milking duties (and making amazing cheese!), a year round weekly farmers market at a nearby mercado, and native plants everywhere that neighbors taught me how to forage. I now know how to handle nopales, prickly pears, and much more.

On top of that, if we had stayed, our children could have attended one of the closest schools, Escuela Manzo, which built its curriculum around gardens, a greenhouse, chickens, and even raising fish to eat. This is also a school with a high rate of children on free and reduced lunches learning how to improve their food system by becoming stewards of it.

The number and quality of organizations in Tucson striving for a healthy sustainable food system is inspiring and I was honored to work with many of them as the coordinator of Tucson Food Day. I believe a lot of it comes from the economic disparity, the seeming harshness of living in a drought-prone desert and the desire of the citizens & leadership to take control of their own food system.

Chickens are fairly simple to raise. In my experience, they are easier to raise than many edible plants. I love that they are a gateway into a more sustainable lifestyle. We have encouraged numerous friends to either start gardening or raise chickens simply because of what we are striving to do ourselves. We have watched people go from making poor choices as they rely on corporate food for their meals to being empowered to take charge of their own health by raising and growing their own food.

If the City of Edgewater desires a healthy, thriving community then allowing and encouraging gardening and raising small farm animals is actually the first step in that direction. What I learned most of all through our two short years in Tucson is that it is our own local community’s responsibility to create a sustainable food system. And that can start with your own family, in your own backyard.

Edgewater will continue to grow its own story and relationship with protecting our local environment and the health of our citizens. Every community is as unique and beautiful as the people creating it. When we empower growing, raising and harvesting our own food we will be taking care of each other in ways that no large grocery store or even a food stamp program can do. Let’s grow together!

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