Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back to the Future

We were returning from a run to the summit of Moose Hill this morning when I spotted something not seen in this neighborhood for quite some time: chickens! There were about six of them in a small coop and pen in a driveway a couple of streets down from our house.

Now, we live in a suburban community where just about everyone commutes to somewhere else for work and the yards are landscaped and manicured - mostly by professional yard maintenance companies with lots of power equipment - and virtually all of our food comes from supermarkets. So, when a flock of chickens appears, it's something worth noting. Once upon a time, it might have been commonplace to have a few hens in the back yard. In fact, I have an old chicken coop behind my garage. It was here when we moved in 20-plus years ago along with a few old fence posts and scraps of rusty old chicken wire. It looked like it hadn't been used for poultry for many years before we arrived, and it now serves as my woodshed.

The new chickens in the neighborhood raise some interesting questions. How will the neighbors react when the wind is blowing just so on a hot summer day? Will these birds be used to produce just eggs, or meat too? Will the chicken scratch be strictly store-bought and, if so, what are the economic and ecological implications of that compared to growing feed on-site? Will we soon have a rooster crowing at dawn?

This could be a sign of things to come. If our economic system does indeed collapse around us, many more of us may be looking for new ways to get our food. Even if we avoid another depression, maybe distrust of food from places like China and the increasing cost of transporting agricultural products across the continent will promote more home-grown farming.

I like to think and hope that there are silver linings in the financial storm clouds swirling around us. If we start getting real about our connection to the land and stop pouring so much energy into growing bluegrass and pansies, that will be a good thing. Maybe the chickens are finally coming home to roost.