Friday, March 14, 2014

"Urban People are NOT Farmers"

The words made me bristle immediately.

A local Facebook friend had posted the link to a much needed petition. Our city does not allow backyard chickens, and many of us would like to change that. The petition can be found here:

Urban chickens for Fort Wayne

Urban chickens for Fort Wayne

I shared the heck out of the petition, not before excitedly replying to my friend's post "YAY! Signing immediately!"

Leave it to Facebook to create unexpected negativity. Not more than an hour later, another post appeared below mine saying (and I'm paraphrasing from memory, because since then my friend has taken her link down);

"I usually wouldn't post, but I feel I have to. Urban people are not farmers. They are people who collect chicken coop ideas on Pinterest. They think chickens in their backyard will be cute and fun and have no idea how much work they will be putting into it for one or two eggs a day. They quickly get bored and then they try to get rid of the chickens on Craigslist."

I sat re-reading the words for a moment, a little stunned. I've been spoiled. I'm surrounded daily by a community on Facebook, my homesteading buddies, many of whom already have chickens whether they are urban or rural. In 'real life', most of my family and friends who know I want chickens find it interesting...quirky, perhaps, and at worst, maybe a little nuts. But I've never come across a strong opinion against having backyard chickens in the city. I have a tendency to take things personally and react with a big old knee-jerk, even when an opinion is stated generally, so I felt this post was directed at me. Since it was under my excited "YAY!" comment, I felt like it was poking at the exaltation trying to let out its air. My mind was saying 'Ex-cuse me, lady! Just who do you think you are talking about?' I quickly replied with:

"I am not interested in chickens for the 'fun' or cute' factor. I have researched them for years and am aware of what is involved in keeping them. Many others like me would like the freedom to own chickens and provide a little more for ourselves despite living within city limits."

I waited for a debate to rage, but silence ensued, and within 2 days the post completely disappeared. The friend who had posted the link was an old high school acquaintance, not someone who I felt comfortable enough to message and ask "hey, why'd you take down the petition?" But the negative comment has stayed with me, despite the post disappearing.

Urban People are not farmers. What does it take to be a farmer? I don't think it was so much the attempt to deny the term 'farmer' that bothered me, because quite honestly, the word 'homesteader' fits better. Rather, what bugged me was the implication that as a whole, urban people don't have a clue. That food growing and homesteading must be left to those who have acreage and background knowledge, the 'real farmers.' However, I personally know dozens of Facebook friends, scattered in urban places around the country and world, who are:

  • Growing Food
  • Preserving Food
  • Keeping Bees
  • Raising Chickens, Ducks, Geese, Quail
  • Raising Goats and Rabbits
  • Collecting Rainwater and Researching (or accomplishing) Off-Grid Power
  • Making Clothing, Food From Scratch, and DIY Projects Galore
  • Creating and Producing More--Consuming Less

I mean, wow! If they are not farmers in the traditional sense, they are certainly visionaries, who've taken a hard look at our food system and have come to the same realization as I have: We can choose to start taking more control of our food, our consumption, and our lives no matter where we live. 

As I tend to do, I let the negative words fester a bit, and tried the other viewpoint on for size. It's only fair to see where your adversary is coming from. Did I cringe because I indeed have been known to browse the internet for cute coop ideas? Sure, I always end up ultimately liking the most practical ideas (not to mention the smallest ones)--especially after the chicken lady I met at a sustainability meeting at the library said "Don't bother with 'cute' anything with's all going to end up covered in shit anyway." Did I get defensive because part of me does like the fun factor of chickens...and of urban homesteading in general? 

How much truth was in the opinion about 'urban people'? Let me first say--if you want me to come out of my seat in defense, go ahead and pull out a blanket statement about an entire people. Stereotype and generalize urban people and I'll pay attention and start an argument, because I avoid putting human beings into categories of behaviors according to their location, race, or gender. As an urban person, I will get defensive about what someone has to say about me. Especially if that statement implies that I'm ignorant about my food or unable to try to take care of myself.

After I let the defensive mood lift a bit, I began to think. If chickens indeed become widely accepted within the city limits, will my attitude change? As it is, I have an idyllic dream of my two little hens, my fresh eggs, the kids trying to catch and hold the indignant birds. I've even let my mind go into the far off murky territory of facing those chickens' deaths when they are finished with egg production, since I know that is the most practical and affordable end. I know what I will do and what I plan to accomplish with my 2 birds (2 is what our current petition is asking for, though 3 sounds best to me).

I also know I will be the only one on my entire neighborhood, actually, with chickens--at first. The control of what happens will stay in my backyard--at first. What happens when the trend takes off? When other people start doing it their own way, including bending the rules a bit? How will I react the first time I hear a rooster crow despite the rules against it? Will I become the chicken cop when other people do the chicken thing their own way and certain realities set in? Though I am an avid chicken-eater, I fully admit that the blood and death of my chicken-eating is still hidden from view, even if I buy 'organic free range chicken'. Will I put my money where my mouth is when death is in plain view? I think that if chickens do become commonplace, so will backyard butchering, and though on paper I think 'yes, great!', deep down I think 'oh, my. Chickens strung upside down, maybe even in front yards as I drive by. Oh.' How ready am I?

And this is just the chickens we are talking about. If urban farming becomes mainstream, there will be a whole menagerie of livestock to think about. Will there be some major growing pains as more animals move into urban settings, and into neighborhoods that take pride in a 'neat, tidy' appearance?

The truth is, I can't see that far into the future, and perhaps I'm getting too ahead of myself. In fact, I know I am getting ahead of myself, since the petition for just a couple backyard chickens hasn't reached all the signatures it needs yet. Urban farming is still a very abstract idea, even if I vicariously live it through the books I've read and the Facebook pages I frequent. I have a strong vision of urban and suburban self-sufficiency, and I don't think that food and animals should be relegated only to the country--not all of us live in the country; most of us never will.

However, I'm trying to stay clear-headed and realistic, and admit that as urban areas start gaining ground--figuratively and in some ways literally--as we head into backyard homesteads and reclaimed empty lots that include not only gardens but livestock and bees, neighborhoods will start to change. Along with tons of positive community aspects, there will be irritations, arguments, and tension. I'm becoming more and more certain that I am ready to take it on, a little at a time.

I'm willing to see where that new trend takes us. I'm actually willing to agree with the statement "Urban People are Not Farmers." No, not in the traditional sense. We have new definitions to create in every aspect of food security. Maybe I will never be an urban farmer, but I certainly plan to be a visionary and embrace the changes as they happen.

So for now, this urban person may not be a farmer, but she is striving for a little more independence and making a lot of like-minded friends along the way. And hopefully soon, she'll be keeping a couple chickens in her back yard in order to have the best eggs on the block--which she is more than willing to share.

How about you?


  1. Wow! Just wow! Great post! I gotta share this one!

  2. Wow Andrea, this was an amazing post, very well written. It's been too long since I've been to your site, glad to be back! We live in the city too, and have chickens, grow our own food, tap our maple trees, and this year we're getting bees. It pisses me off when people talk crap about urban homesteaders. Sure, maybe we're not farmers in the traditional sense, but can't others appreciate our efforts regardless of where we happen to live? There are too many negative nancy's out there, ready to pounce on anyone for anything, especially when they can hide behind their computer screen to make these statements. Good for you for standing up for what you believe in, and encouraging others to do the same!


  3. Right behind you on your reaction/response !

  4. Very good post.. I agree urban people are not farmers and they don't have to be one. But I am all for urban homesteading, people have to take back their knowledge about food. As for that negative commenter, I am sick of people trying to control others just because things can go wrong or because it does not click well with their own views. Last year there was a huge change in school system in Turkey and people were opposing it just because religious people can use it to educate THEIR children THEIR own way. Hence our chance to open a door to homeschooling vanished forever. Sad.

  5. Various groups of people seem to think they own the word "farmer". I have 20 acres, but am not really a "farmer" to some who have 100. Along came the phrase "hobby farmer". That's cool if you want to apply it to yourself. Please, don't apply it to me. While I love my lifestyle, it's definitely NOT a hobby. I had a little "farm" in an urban area. It was quite productive with rabbits for meat & fiber, nut trees & vegetable garden. There was even an odd little herb garden on the pathetically small strip of front yard between the porch & sidewalk. I think the word "farm" has more universal appeal than the word "homestead". According to my dictionary, farm is defined as "a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes". No size or demographic info accompanied that definition. I love the phrase "Urban Farm". I love the seeming contradiction of the term. I love that people are embracing the importance of food and growing their own wherever they happen to live. You Urban Farmers are the new pioneers placing the means to healthier living & a rich, rewarding lifestyle within the reach of so many. I salute you!

  6. Great post Andrea! Having done this homesteading/farming thing the urban way and also on many acres of farm land, I completely agree with your perspective that "farming" is about far more than how many acres you have or how big your city lot is (or perhaps, how big the balcony of your apartment is!) Good luck with those chickens!

  7. I had to chuckle when I read that. We DO live in the country, but only own 10 acres and, and STILL many people wouldn't consider us farmers (even though we raise chickens, sheep, and grow a garden). I guess it is all perspective. LOL.

    About the chicken this being cute and fun, I would totally ignore that because they are cute and fun. We have 50+ chickens and they do nothing but entertain us. Just Google 'Chicken TV' and thousands of other people will show you how they agree.

    Keep up the hard work. We need more people like you in the makes for a better prospect to the future of the planet.

  8. Tut, tut, some folks just don't get it. I enjoyed your post even though the subject in enraging. Hoping you get your chickens. Have a great farm-y day.

  9. I'm having a great time reading through your blog and had to stop and comment here. I am dying for a few laying hens. I researched keeping chickens for a year and submitted a whole report to my HOA requesting a change in the no poultry rule. I got a flat no from them and I'm very bitter. :) I keep getting the attitude you spoke about. It's so frustrating to continually have people treat you like don't know what you are talking about or that you can't possibly want what you want for the right reasons. It bothers me that something as basic as providing fresh, safe food for your family can be outlawed or against the rules. Wonderful post and so well said!!!!

    1. Sorry! Don't know why it made me anonymous. ~Alicia from Walking Softly Upon the Earth

    2. Hi Alicia! So nice to 'see' you here! Oh, I am so frustrated for you, that you spent all that time researching, and actively sought change, only to be met with an outright NO. It sounds like your city has the same general attitude as mine. I have been reading about other major cities all over the US who allow backyard chickens; my good friend Sam over in Albuquerque NM just got 7 hens for his backyard, perfectly legal. In fact, he is allowed a rooster, if he so desired! There are just such so many varying laws and attitudes around this issue. So very frustrating for people like you and me, who are impatient and would love for our neighborhoods to accept our need to provide safe food for ourselves...and to walk softer on the earth. ;) Thanks so much for stopping by. I hope we both get the hens we are so ready for.