seeds in the city
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Seeds in the City
May, 2013, Page 92
Januka Neupane cuts up a type of radish.
After 23 years at The Urban Farm, Peterson recently downsized to an 800-square-foot apartment at the Oasis apartment complex on 20th Street and Campbell, also part of Venue Projects’ adaptive reuse program. He hopes to turn his 18 x 20-foot patio into a new type of urban farm with vertical tower gardens and containers. Peterson will continue using organic farming methods despite the added challenge of raised beds (which are more susceptible to sun damage). “Healthy soil is what gives us healthy food,” he says. “When we add chemicals to our gardens, it kills one of the healthiest components of the soil – the life that’s in it.” Peterson likens soil to the human digestive system, our “gut flora.” When the body is healthy, it’s resistant to bugs such as colds and influenza. Similarly, healthy soil repels insects without the need for pesticides.
Peterson turned the Urban Farm over to a new generation led by Root Phoenix’s educational curator, Shannon Boomer. The pair says the re-skilling movement – the desire of people to learn traditional skills such as gardening and food preservation – has captured the zeitgeist for practical reasons. It’s partially a response to economic depression and natural (or human-caused) disaster preparation. But it’s also about self-fulfillment. “People are seeing what happens when you’re disconnected from your food system. They are unhealthy, unhappy, and out of balance,” Boomer says. “Food is medicine. Digging in the ground is spiritual, without the woo-woo.”
Olorunfemi tells of one older refugee who spends nearly every day at the community garden, pacing the rows of vegetables and working his hands in the dirt. When questioned about it, the man explained that his health was poor when he was stuck indoors. After being given a place to go outside and farm, he feels strong and alive and connected to the world. And then he can go pick dinner.
Left: Eric and Holly Figueroa
All Cooped Up
Phoenix residents Eric and Holly Figueroa had no idea what they were getting into when they purchased urban chickens via
Craigslist last year. That evening, Eric and Holly returned home with three 7-month-old hens slumped over in a dog carrier, heads lolling. “We thought they were dead,” Holly remembers. “I was worried that everything I did was wrong.” Turns out the little cluckers were just asleep.
As Phoenix residents look for ways to control food quality, more and more families are raising chickens as a source of healthful, organic eggs. Household chickens can easily live eight to 10 years, providing entertainment far longer than they do eggs. “The best thing is when I give one chicken a worm and she scurries after it,” Holly says. “The other chickens try to take the worm away. It’s like a game.”
When Holly first broached the subject of adding chickens to the family, her husband thought it was a fad. Slowly, she wore him down. The couple attended a screening of the 2008 flick Mad City Chickens at FilmBar and a Valley Permaculture Alliance class with artist Rachel Bess, author of Fowl Play: Your Guide to Keeping Chickens in the City. Bess, a local artist, says her neighbors aren’t bothered by her fowl habit. “Everyone that finds out about the chickens either doesn’t care or thinks it’s great,” she explains. “It’s not as weird as it was 5 or 10 years ago.” Holly and Eric, who recently moved from FQ Story to another nearby historic district in Central Phoenix, say their neighbors have been similarly supportive.
Little is required to maintain urban chickens: a small plot of shaded land, a coop with roosting bars, a $25 bag of feed per month (for a small coop), and water. As with all pets, there is a downside. In May of 2011, Phoenix residents near 29th Avenue and Latham reported five untended chickens wreaking havoc on their properties. With no Maricopa County laws governing feral chickens, the strays remained. Even private trapping hasn’t fully countered flocks of urban chickens likely left behind when their owners relocated. Two years later, unclaimed roosters and peacocks still wander neighborhoods in South Phoenix, Chandler and Glendale.
These stray birds and other wildlife can be detrimental to cooped chickens. One of Eric and Holly’s first chickens, Gertie, died in October after a feral cat wandered into their yard. “It was a terrible sound,” Holly recalls with a shudder. “Then the dogs came out and took care of the cat. It was the circle of life in our backyard at 3:45 a.m.”
Even so, the Figueroas are thrilled with the ease of their chicken-raising experience. “The first time we saw an egg was like the greatest day of my life,” Holly exclaims, beaming like a proud mother hen. Numerous resources on urban chickens are available online, from the plans Eric used to build his sturdy red coop to forums on chicken health and behavior. Rest assured that whatever challenges a fledgling chicken owner encounters, Holly says, there’s someone out there crowing a solution.
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