Over the past couple of weeks, the New York Times’ coverage of the darkness and destruction left behind by Superstorm Sandy has been predictably both hard-hitting
(“Dwindling dollars heightened the pain of throwing out food rotting inside powerless refrigerators, and sharpened the question of where the next meal would come from”) and cringe-inducing
(“After discovering that her water-filled tub had drained, Susan Hunter, a Greenwich Village graphic designer, used a bottle of white Zinfandel to flush the toilet instead.”) Naturally, the paper of record has managed to sneak the perennially popular topic of urban agriculture into the fold as well.
You see, Sandy not only managed to destroy
one of the Brooklyn’s most vital urban farming operations and decimate
the city's largest commercial apiary. The storm also, as the Times reports
, resulted in the displacement of a small brood of close-knit, cheekily named hens — and their keepers.
In my own hard-hit neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn — a waterfront village where there’s been no shortage of tales both horrific and heroic during these strange post-Sandy days — 27-year-old Hannah Kirshner
lost her garden-level apartment to flooding. She also nearly
lost her four beloved pets of the poultry variety on the night of Oct. 29: Chicki Minaj, Hillary Chicken, Black Betty and Salt Hen Peppa (AKA Cookie Dough).
Before I get to the perilous segment of the story, I should explain that Kirshner, a self-described "bartender, baker, bicyclist and maker" (can't get anymore Brooklyn than that, folks), didn’t keep the hens at her actual, now-uninhabitable apartment. With permission, she installed their coop in a nearby vacant lot leased by the proprietors of Home/Made
, a fantastic café across the street from my own apartment building. They've been residing there for a few months now.
In the hours before the storm, Kirshner and her boyfriend, Hiroshi Kumagai, decided to obey mandatory evacuation orders and decamp to higher ground. They also decided to leave their four egg-laying friends behind to ride out the storm. Kirshner locked the ladies into a higher portion of the coop about four feet off the ground thinking they'd be safe from the storm surge.
Well, they weren't. At the height of the storm, it occurred to the owners of Home/Made, Leisah Swenson and Monica Byrne, that Kirshner’s chickens, in possession of delicious breasts but not trained in breaststroke, weren’t going to make it through the night locked in the coop. And so with that, they performed a full-on chicken rescue operation.
When the water began to rise, Ms. Byrne and Ms. Swenson headed over to the lot with the chickens and plunged into chest-deep water to save them.
'We had to,' Ms. Swenson said. 'We’re big suckers.'
Ms. Swenson, Ms. Byrne and another neighbor yanked the chickens out of their coop, which was bobbing away at a 45-degree angle, and carried them by their feet into their apartment.
The chickens spent the next two days there, cohabitating just fine with the couple’s seven cats, until the coop could be cleaned and set safely upright. Once the area had dried out, a refugee chicken named Cindy appeared in a small cage next to Ms. Kirshner’s coop, dropped off by owners who needed help taking care of her. But by Saturday, Cindy had disappeared, and nobody seemed to know where she was. She remains at large.
Cute. And, yes, you read that correctly: seven cats and four chickens living in one apartment. However, in the wake of the storm, Byrne and Swenson have found themselves unable to provide long-term lodgings for the brood as they may have to sell the vacant lot where the chickens reside to keep their heavily damaged café afloat. In turn, Kirshner and Kumagai are on the prowl for new accommodations across the borough for themselves and their fowl. For now, Kirshner is currently staying with relatives while Kumagai is staying with friends and sleeping in his office. Chicki Minaj, Hillary Chicken, Black Betty and Salt Hen Peppa remain in Red Hook for the time being.
So they are now searching for a new rental and facing a variety of challenges, including a budget strained by so much ruin, and competition from other renters displaced by the storm. But there is a special wrinkle in their quest for a new home.
So there’s that. Kirshner is also fully aware that she may — if things don’t work out — have to part with her hens. Still, she’s optimistic: “It is going to be O.K. Amazing, hilarious things still happen.”
So please, dearest MNN readers, if you’re aware of any chicken-friendly rental apartments in Brooklyn, do let Kirshner know
. And if you’d like to help Byrne and Swenson repair and reopen their own business (best brunch in the ‘nabe) send a few bucks over to Restore Red Hook