Yesterday, home blogger Matt wrote about urban chicken abandonment. It’s a real thing. Here’s what’s happening with the chickens: Animal shelters are getting flooded with them because when inexperienced people who have been inspired to try urban chicken farming give it a go, they often find it's very different than they imagined and they abandon the chickens. It frequently happens when the chickens naturally stop laying eggs but still have years of life ahead of them.
Now, these chickens could get taken to slaughter and become Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic, but there are a couple of reasons why that rarely happens. There aren’t very many local, walk-in slaughter houses around. Also, people who spend months or a couple of years with chickens in their back yard tend to become attached to the birds. They don’t want to kill and eat them.
The “stupid foodies” with their “misplaced rural nostalgia,” as Mary Britton Clouse of Chicken Run Rescue in Minnesota says, “don’t know what they’re doing. And you’ve got this whole culture of people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing teaching every other idiot out there.”
Reading Matt’s article and the quotes he included in it had me both laughing and thinking about my own failed attempts at being the perfect sustainable (stupid) foodie.
When I read Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” I was so inspired by her family’s accomplishment of eating (almost) totally local for an entire year. “Maybe I can’t do exactly that,” I thought, “but I can start a garden.” I had a small garden years before that always went by the wayside just about the time we’d go on vacation, but this time would be different. I was inspired. It wasn’t just going to be a hobby this time. It was going to be a way of life. I was going to feed my family good, wholesome, organic food from my own garden and save the Earth along the way.
If you’ve been following this blog since it began in 2009, you may have noticed I haven’t mentioned my garden in the past two years. I don’t have one anymore. I finally realized there was a reason my garden only ever made it halfway through the summer all those years ago. I don’t really enjoy gardening.
I wanted to enjoy gardening. I thought I should enjoy gardening. If I’m a proponent of local foods, shouldn’t I have a garden and love having it? How could I do what I do, write about the things I write about, have a personal blog called South Jersey Locavore, and inspire others if I didn’t have a garden?
So I spent several summers starting gardens and spending money trying to critter-proof those gardens naturally. I never kept an exact cost analysis, but I am certain that I would have saved money all those years if I had simply shopped the farmers markets.
In the end, there was a lot of waste because of my gardens. Wasted money. Wasted materials. Wasted time. I have a feeling that many people who tried urban chicken farming are starting to see that they’ve had a lot of waste, too.
There are successful urban chicken farmers, though, just like there are successful backyard gardeners. What I’ve learned from my gardening experience and what the abandoned chicken problem shows is that we need to know ourselves. We need to know our skill sets, our time limits, our interests and our limitations. We also need to know it’s okay to not be the perfect sustainable foodie.
It’s so easy to get inspired by other people who are doing impressive things when it comes to sustainable food and other areas of sustainability. But I've found that when I take on sustainable projects that go beyond my personal limitations, they become unsustainable.
I can be just as much of a sustainable foodie and proponent of local foods by spending my money at the farmers market. It makes sense for me. I’m not spending time doing something I don’t enjoy. I’m getting good value for my money instead of wasting it. I’m supporting the local producers. I’m out in the community, running into people I know and being social. I really enjoy that.
The sustainable movement has created a thriving DIY culture, and that’s great. But, I’m coming to realize that I don’t have to do everything myself to be sustainable. I can buy my vegetables from local producers instead of growing them myself and be just as sustainable as having my own garden. In fact, for me, it’s more sustainable.
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