Laurel Neighborhood News

by John Frando and Kathleen Rolinson

Raising chickens and ducks in the Laurel. Photo by Nick Lostracco.

Click to enlarge.

Local Eating and Urban Homesteading

Raising chickens and ducks for fresh organic eggs in their Patterson Ave. garden exemplifies Paul Ferguson and Scooter Marriner's move toward self-sufficiency. Among fruit trees and raised garden beds completely enclosed with protective chicken-wire fencing, the birds live a free-range lifestyle, busily scratching and pecking the ground for insects, stretching their wings, and behaving naturally as any pets would at home.

Scooter picked up and held Ruby, a sociable Rhode Island Red, pointing out that each hen had a personality as varied as the naturally colorful eggs they lay throughout the yard. Finding eggs in unusual places around the garden is a joyful activity.

"I wanted some exotic breeds, so I purchased some online," Paul said. "They arrived in the mail as young chicks in a box. The hatchery threw in a few rooster chicks to help keep the other chicks warm during transit."

Both Paul and Scooter are vegetarians and love animals, and one would expect some sadness as they explained what happened to the grown male chickens, useless for egg-laying and illegal to keep by city ordinance.

Paul explained that: "The first rooster was tough to let go. But he went to a good family who wanted a closer connection with their food. Their child learned that the chicken had a name, Whitey, and now asks about chickens' names when they purchase meat at Farmer Joe's."

Indeed, a closer connection to their food and a desire to reduce the environmental impact of their food choices influenced Paul and Scooter's efforts to eat only food from local farms or gardens. Reducing reliance on oil to transport food long distances, consuming fresher, better tasting, and more nutritious organic produce, and understanding and accepting the seasonality and natural processes affecting how food is raised were all important factors.

Since moving to the house with a large backyard in the Laurel two years ago, Paul is actively transforming the yard into a productive garden. He cleared ivy and weeds, added raised garden beds and fruit trees, a honeybee hive, and the birds. Scooter built the hen house from recycled materials. Paul began making his own sauerkraut, pickles, cheese, and root beer. They provide a next-door neighbor with fresh eggs, and friends routinely drop off vegetables and fruit from their gardens. He also is working on a "Zero Mile Diet," and he created a blog to share and document his experiences:

Urban homesteading is neither a retreat to the countryside nor survivalist movement from community. Practitioners like Paul enjoy living in cities, but also believe in participating in the pleasure of producing their own food, forming networks among neighbors to share food, information, and other resources, and fostering a sustainable, locally based food production system that is healthier for people and friendlier to the environment. In an era of concern over modern industrial food safety, a local food production system is becoming more popular.

John Frando can be reached at jfrando\ and Kathleen Rolinson at krolinson\