A Brilliant Backyard Idea

Every once in a while I’ll stumble across a business plan that’s so quirky and magnificent that I just have to share it. When people think out of the box and it resonates with me, I just naturally want them to succeed, because, well, the world needs this product or service. That’s how I feel about Rent-A-Chicken.

In a world where we have become more and more skeptical about our food sources, this is an idea whose time has come. Urban farming is becoming increasingly popular. I love the little garden in our back yard. I savor every tomato, strawberry, onion, clove of garlic, etc. that comes from it. I love that we have blackberries and pears and apples in the park that surrounds us. We have also put up a bat house and are planning a bug house and we plant flowers that are good for the bees and hummingbirds. I like the idea of giving back to the planet while also sharing in its abundance. It would be amazing to have fresh eggs, from well-loved chickens, too.

For the price of the chicken rental (the amount of which appears nowhere on the website, and believe you me, I’ve complained to them about that) you get laying hens, a coop, an enclosed run, food, a water dispenser, delivery, training on chicken care, and a help desk. They’ll even house your chicken over the labor-intensive winter for you, and tag it so you can get the same hen back the following year, in case you become attached (which I’m quite sure I would.)

The thought of city-dwelling parents introducing their children to some aspect of farming makes me really happy. I think raising chickens would make the youth of today a lot more aware of where food comes from. It would also make them see how important it is to take care of our environment.

I also love the idea that there are franchises available for farmers. It’s so much harder for them to keep afloat these days that increasing their ability to bring in extra money appeals to me greatly. Currently, I can’t Rent-A-Chicken in the Seattle area, which breaks my heart. So, area farmers, are you listening? We need you to become cluckin’ entrepreneurs!

Chickens

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Farmers’ Markets

The farmers’ market in the small town where I just bought my house actually coincides with my regular day off. Yay! So my newest tradition is to go there every week while they’re open, June through September. It’s a delightful way to spend a summer afternoon. It beats the hell out of shopping at Walmart.

I like supporting local farmers, and not having to worry that my fruit and veggies were treated with harsh chemicals so that they’d survive a long truck drive to market. Often the things I buy are still warm from the sun and dirty from the soil. I love that.

And I tend to eat more fruit and veggies if I’ve made the effort to go to a farmer’s market. This is, of course, a win for me. And everything is fresh and usually delicious.

I also love that they take WIC (Women, Infants and Children) vouchers, and if you have an EBT (Food Stamp) card, you get 50% off. And then there’s the SFMNP (Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program). This provides low income senior citizens with vouchers that can be used for produce, honey, and fresh-cut herbs. Since I’m sure I’ll qualify for that some day, I hope that program still exists in about 20 years.

Even if you don’t qualify for any of those programs, the items available at farmers markets are usually very reasonably priced, because you’ve cut out the middle man. And you know you’re supporting the local economy. You also get to people watch, which is an added bonus.

I often buy cherries and then sit on a park bench to eat them and watch kids toss the ball around, women pushing babies in strollers, and cult members passing out leaflets. Politicians sometimes show up to glad handle their constituents, and often there are experts discussing recipes or giving good gardening advice. And I usually get to hear at least 3 languages on any given day. That’s music to my ears.

It’s a great way to meet local artisans, too. Butchers. Bakers. Candle makers. Purveyors of honey. Artists. Florists. I’m dazzled by the color and creativity.

I wonder why pet shelters don’t bring animals there for adoption? “Look honey, I bought peaches and a puppy!” I think it would be a perfect pairing.

Most of all, I like the sense of community that I feel at farmers’ markets. In a world that’s increasingly divided, it’s nice to be able to come together over something we can all agree on: good food. I’ve yet to see a fight break out at a farmers’ market. It’s kind of like an unspoken neutral zone.

Even though Autumn is my favorite season, I’ll be kind of sad when October rolls around and the farmers’ markets close for the year.  Take advantage of them while you still can, folks, and maybe I’ll see you next summer!

farmers market

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Happy Winter!

The term “solstice” always sets off a slight frisson in me. It evokes ancient rites and rituals, the customs of people we barely remember and are hard-pressed to comprehend. No matter what your spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, it’s hard to ignore the passage of time as indicated by the sun, our main purveyor of life.

Today marks the winter solstice, the longest night and the shortest day of the year. On this day I tend to entertain an irrational fear that the sun may decide not to come back to us after all. That would spell disaster. Come back sun! Please come back!

There is ample evidence that ancient peoples took this day very seriously as well.

The Romans celebrated Saturnalia, and during this time all societal norms and conventions were sidelined. People ran wild. Masters served their slaves. I love the thought of that on so many levels.

Even in modern times, Druids gather at Stonehenge, and the sunrise lines up perfectly with the principle arch. Meanwhile, in Chaco Canyon, thousands of miles away, two daggers of sunlight will exactly bracket a spiral that was etched on a stone wall on Fajada Butte by some long-forgotten hand. (Sadly the average person will never see this again, as it’s protected from tourism for fear the rocks will shift and destroy the phenomena.)

In many parts of the world, farmers chose this day to slaughter their livestock so as not to have to feed them through the long, dark winter.

In Scandanavia, this was the time to burn the yule log, while on the other side of the world, the Mayans engaged in the flying pole dance, and the Incas were honoring the sun god.

The winter solstice is a day of death and fear and celebration and renewed hope. It is the official start of the winter season. Be that as it may, I was already over this cold, raw weather a month ago. Wishing you the fortitude to make it ‘til spring!

Chaco Dagger
This beautiful light pattern in Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon only shows itself at winter solstice.

Community Supported Agriculture

If ever I am no longer a party of one (or should I say, “if only”), one of the first things I plan to do is join a CSA. Community Supported Agriculture is a brilliant idea. You pay a monthly fee, and almost as if by magic, each week a box of fresh, local, in-season produce shows up at your door.

Not only are you supporting the local economy and helping local farms to thrive, but you are treating your body to the local, organically grown harvest in all its glorious variety, and helping the environment by not having your food shipped in from great distances. There’s nothing about this concept that doesn’t make perfect sense.

Sadly, it’s been my experience that it’s way too much food for one person, and I am someone who hates to see things go to waste. It becomes stressful, trying to keep up with the steady flow of healthy foodstuffs. Sometimes when you’re all alone, you just want to watch old movies and send out for pizza, you know? When eating your vegetables becomes a stressful chore, much like it was in childhood, something’s got to give.

But if I’m ever a party of two again, I’ll be signing up for Pacific Coast Harvest CSA, which serves the Seattle area. Just going to their website makes my mouth water. Maybe someday…

A typical box from Pacific Coast Harvest CSA. [Image credit: pacificcoastharvest.com]
A typical box from Pacific Coast Harvest CSA.
[Image credit: pacificcoastharvest.com]