March 7, 2011

A Pet That Feeds You! ~ René Cousineau

All Photos: Keenan Conway

Urban farming is fun, gratifying and it keeps your chickens out of corporate farms.

Personally, my own backyard is characterized by its patches of dead grass, a neglected dog run that now looks like a fenced-in slice of the jungle, a dog running free, a feeble attempt at basil coughing pathetically along the side of the house, a kinky hose…sometimes a chair ends up out there, or a cup. It’s fairly unattractive.

To say the least.

My friend Keenan Conway’s backyard in Denver, Colorado, on the other hand, is a paradise.

And it’s not because of its lush, green grass, its blooming gardens bursting with color, the rustic, ivy-covered gazebo or even the heart-shaped hot tub perpetually occupied with nude Victoria’s Secret models. No, it isn’t any of that. He doesn’t even have any of that stuff.

But he does have five beautiful, voluptuous and sassy chickens.

You heard me, the boy’s got chickens. And they’re stunning. Penny, Ingrid, Agnes, Wilma and Beverly are real ladies, and real friends just like any other domestic pet. The only difference is that if your cat lays an egg, you probably don’t want to eat it (and you probably shouldn’t). And no, Keenan’s chickens don’t sleep at the foot of his bed, but that’s only because they have their own house out back where they get to have “no-boys-allowed” slumber parties every night. If I had my own party coop, I wouldn’t want to sleep at the foot of anyone’s bed either.

All I’m saying is that, the love between a boy and his five gorgeous chickens can be as real as the love that I shared with my childhood turtle (Captain Rupert Cornelius). The only difference between Keenan’s chickens and most other animal companions is that they provide a sustainable food source. Maybe it’s this fact that’s making urban chicken farming so hip on this noisy little city block near the Art District on Santa Fe in Denver. Keenan’s neighbors on either side are also proud chicken owners, and the father of this big, happy family is James Bertini—Keenan’s landlord and owner of this little strip of houses that the UCD Advocate refers to as the “Santa Fe to Kalamath Homesteading Belt.”

(Keenan and Penny)

Bertini is also the founder of Denver Urban Homesteading, an urban agricultural center and year-round, indoor farmer’s market that offers classes on a range of topics from vegetable gardening to wood furniture restoration—and of course, chicken keeping. How cool is that? I’m seriously considering attending the Urban Homesteading Teach-In (March 26th and 27th) so I can learn how to preserve, can, prepare a garden site and grow freaking berries! I never thought I would be the kind of girl that would want to grow her own berries (I mean I can’t even grow some lousy basil). The times they are a’changin’…

Together, Bertini and Conway are spearheading a Free the Chickens campaign, working to change a “50 year-old law that bans chickens in some areas and allows them in others, but only after a very complicated permitting procedure and payment of $150 for a one-year permit.” The campaign website provides a wealth of fascinating information about the current Denver laws (a resident can have an unlimited number of snakes going around and scaring the bejesus out of everyone, but they can’t have effing chickens?!), as well as where in Colorado and nationally one is allowed to raise chickens without a permit. These passionate urban farmers are working toward legalizing individual ownership of up to six chickens, so that tiny-scale backyard farms like Keenan’s can continue to thrive.

Why do you care? Because this little up-and-coming wave of urban homesteaders is awesome. These people are doing something that is eco-conscious, sustainable, animal-friendly, community-building and a word that we all love around these parts—mindful. Backyard farming is something that we could all take into consideration if we’re really serious about modifying our individual lifestyles to be more kind to the environment, the animals and to each other. It’s going green on a slightly larger scale than doing things like, say, using organic shampoo (but you can keep doing that too).

Imagine a community that works together to grow it’s own vegetables. Neighbors who trade fresh eggs for homegrown tomatoes or goat milk—Keenan hopes that at some point, the potentially reformed chicken laws will also include other livestock. And while we’re at it, we can all participate in beef shares, roast our own coffee, brew our own beer, grow our own fruit trees, build our own furniture and knit for each other. I know I might sound like I’m slowly going insane as I write this, but I’m not saying we have to throw out our cell phones and start wearing petticoats again. I’m just saying… doesn’t this sound kinda nice?

If you think it sounds kinda nice, you’ll help out the genuinely amazing folks on the front-line of this movement. Please, sign the petition. Free the chickens and help an urban farmer save the world.

You can sign at any of the following locations:

Denver Urban Homesteading
200 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO 80223
HOURS: Wed, Thurs, Fri 1-6, Saturday 9-2

Yellow Feather Coffee
742 Santa Fe Drive, Denver, CO

Fancy Tiger Crafts
1 S Broadway, Denver

Mercury Café
2199 California Street, Denver

René Cousineau was born and raised in Glenwood Springs, CO. She currently lives in Boulder and is a student of fiction writing and Russian literature. She spends her time reading, cleaning, hiking, dancing, and slinging cupcakes at a local bakery/coffee shop.

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