The chicken is still having her moment as the mascot and darling of the always-cresting locavore food movement. But as hipsters and foodies from New York to San Francisco embrace her charms and services — like her ability to consume food scraps and turn them into nitrogen-rich compost much faster than, say, a clutch of earthworms can (and with bucketloads more personality) — many people are struggling to learn how, exactly, to care for her.
Enter “City Chicks: Keeping Micro-Flocks of Laying Hens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-Recyclers and Local Food Suppliers” (Good Earth Publications, $22.50). Yes, its title is a mouthful, but its author, Patricia Foreman, a pharmacist and author from Lexington, Va., is a very thorough woman. (She has degrees in agricultural science and public affairs and has kept chickens, and written about sustainable agriculture, for two decades.)
In an attempt to have the chicken-keeping laws of Lexington changed — the city, like many others, considers chickens livestock, which are usually contraband within city limits — she took Attila the Hen, a comely and personable fowl (above, with Ms. Foreman), to a city council meeting. The council members, she said, loved the chicken, which purred and preened as she was passed around, but the law remained, to Ms. Foreman’s dismay.
“I think the stakes are high,” she said in a telephone interview. “We need to change our food supply, manage our trash and get off the oil habit.”
In her book, Ms. Foreman notes that commercial fertilizers and pesticides are oil-based, but chickens make a richer fertilizer than the commercial variety and are deft weeders and pest eaters. Of course, she said, “education is key, to show that chickens are an asset, not a nuisance.”