Old fashioned, that is, except for the power tools. And the digital cameras. And the pizza. I guess it was actually a thoroughly contemporary chicken coop raising. At any rate, Portland is a town with a very vibrant chicken culture. Within the city limits, you can keep three chickens in your yard with no permit required, and the permitting process for keeping more than three is, I'm told, not a particularly difficult one to navigate. And in most parts of town, folks are pretty tolerant of it. In fact, I've noticed a few backyard coops in my own neighborhood. However, Patrick and Holly, urban homesteaders who moved here from Oakland a few years back, managed to find one of the few neighborhoods in Portland where the presence of chickens brings out the ugliness in the neighbors. So having given up on keeping their own chickens for the time being, they've partnered with Zenger Farm, an agricultural park owned by the city, and the 47th Street Farm, a CSA near the Woodstock neighborhood, in starting up a cooperative egg farm.
I found out about this last weekend, and it struck me as a very interesting project, so I signed on as a volunteer. Of course, it involves free eggs, but what I find really compelling about this is the idea of becoming directly involved in the production of not only my own food (beyond my own backyard gardening), but that of the larger community as well. With growing public awareness of the problems associated with industrial farming, specifically the economic and political costs of intensive petroleum use in both the production and shipping of food, not to mention the recent spinach and melamine scares, I really think that small urban farms, particularly those with some sort of cooperative or participatory element, are the wave of the future (what you just read is what my high school English teacher, Sharon Hunter, would've called a "run on sentence." Guilty as charged. Sorry, Mrs. Hunter!). Initially, this project will involve 50 chickens (raised on organic feed and, I'm assuming, with no antibiotics or hormones), but it has the potential to evolve into who knows what. The eggs will be used primarily to supply the 47th Street Farm for their CSA subscribers. And of course, a few of them will go to the volunteers who take care of the chickens.
About ten of us met up last Sunday at the Zenger Farm, where this is taking place, to hash out a design, and we met up again today to build the first coop. While it's still not finished, the majority of the work's been done, in four hours, no less. Here's the base being put together:
And here's one of the walls being attached to the base:
Here's an interesting, almost noir-ish, shot of Burke hanging out in the barn (he couldn't run free, due to the adjacent wetlands):
And here's Patrick, framed within the (mostly) completed coop:
The coop will be finished off with a sloping corrugated plastic roof, and the sides will be covered in a combination of chicken wire, hardware cloth and canvas. The chickens will roost inside, and there will be nesting boxes on one end (this is where they lay the eggs). The coop will also have a set of wheels which are being fabricated by a local bicycle frame builder, making it mobile so it can be relocated as Zenger's crops are rotated.
And no, I wasn't taking pictures the whole time, I did actually do some work. It was, to say the least, an interesting day, and I'm looking forward to working with the chickens. I'll keep you all up to date on this as it gets off the ground.