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Chicken and Egg: The Evolution of City Chickens and Urban Livestock

Chicken and Egg: The Evolution of City Chickens and Urban Livestock

Jacky Hayward | Chef's Blade

From bees to chickens and even goats, urban farming has taken root in many an urban environment recently. Many turn to urban husbandry as a way to fight against industrialized farming, while others want to connect with their food, and others still want a more cost effective food source. And then there are those who just want a more symbiotic relationship with their pets; these are the types that tend to name their chickens and goats. Bees, on the other hand, are a little harder to name.

Urban husbandry has a long history. In medieval times, urban citizens raised hogs and cows in their backyards for food, but it smelled bad and polluted water so neighbors complained, and livestock was eventually outlawed.

Fast forward to WWI. Between 1913 and 1921, First Lady Eleanor Wilson grazed her sheep on the White House lawn. Her wooly lawnmowers kept the grounds lush as they simultaneously fed themselves and fertilized the grass; White House employees also sheered the sheep for their wool.

Since Wilson’s presidency, no livestock has been raised anywhere near the White House, let alone on its lawn. Until fairly recently in fact, few urban citizens have had any desire to see livestock return to city limits.

After the Great Depression ended, food production became more industrialized than it ever had before. Many Americans moved to the suburbs and livestock became exclusive to rural farms. With the population ballooning, it didn’t make sense for food production to be in cities any longer. Slowly, large farming conglomerates bought out smaller mom and pop farms, and consumers started to buy their groceries from chain stores rather than from farmers or producing it themselves. At first, this move made sense. As livestock and farming production became more centralized it became more efficient; this, coupled with government subsidies, made food inexpensive and freed up American’s time to do other things, which seems like a good thing, right? Initially, yes. It made living more affordable and convenient.

But how would these industrialized farms continue to produce food at cheaper and cheaper prices? Corners had to be cut. Soon, large food corporations like Tyson and Perdue began producing meat in unprecedented ways: Animals were raised in small cages, fed unnatural diets, and consumers had no contact with the people raising their food let alone any idea how their food was being raised. This wouldn’t have been a problem if the food being raised was delicious and healthy, but it wasn’t.

Millions of salmonella cases and a Mad Cow outbreak later, consumers today are not only questioning the food system but they are raising their own livestock. The question arises, however, when raising livestock returns to cities, will neighbors again complain about the noise and the smell, just as they did in the middle ages? The answer is sometimes yes.

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