News/Culture >> Browse Articles >> Food Writing


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

As Hanna drove into the city with the two goats, who were around a year old at the time, one of the goats tried to sit in her lap while she was driving; her boarder collie, Owen, sat snarling at the goat. Other drivers looked into her car perplexed and the tollbooth worker apologized for only having dog treats. After a week in the city, it was clear the goats were stressed by the change from the rural hills of Marin to the urban environment. One day, when Hanna was only able to spend a few moments with them, the goats rolled a barrel to get to the window where they last saw her. They broke the window and ended up wandering the streets of the Mission District as confused as the city dwellers who saw them. Animals Control eventually called to say the goats had to be taken away from the streets. This brings us to another important distinction: There is no San Francisco ordinance saying whether SF residents can keep goats; chickens and other small foul are mentioned as are dogs and cats, but no goats. Hanna decided to take a loose interpretation of the laws surrounding larger animals and went with it. For her, a return to urban pastoralism is a cause worth fight.

For many, the growth of city livestock creates a renewed sense of community in urban environments. City Slicker Farms (CSF), in Oakland, California, works to bring fresh foods to West Oakland, CA through a variety of venues, including a program building personal urban farms in residents’ backyards. Realizing that residents needed more than just fresh produce, CSF taught residents to raise chickens on their land as well. City Slicker Farm’s executive director Barbara Finnin talks about how it was not only the new food source that residents loved about their neighbors’ chickens but also the connection they had with them. For Barbara, the curiosity sparked by backyard chickens is one of the most exciting things about CSF; neighbors are now talking to neighbors about their chickens and about their gardens, creating a whole new dialogue around food and just a dialogue in general. “For whatever reason, many of these neighbors may never have talked before,” says Finn; now they have something to talk about. Most of the participants in City Slicker Farms find out about the program through word of mouth. The conversion of West Oakland into farms is happening almost “virally” Barbara says. And that’s really cool.

The new urban farmer wants to combine the benefits of the city with the advantages of country life. They want to know their food personally. They want healthy and delicious food that’s also cheaper. They also love the community that urban farming has created. Urban residents raising livestock in their backyards have a new thing to talk about with their neighbors. They can trade honey for eggs, milk for meat, or whatever else their fellow urban dwellers are raising close by. A new urban economy has been born, but quite a bit different than that of Wilson’s time and most certainly from medieval times. Historically many instances of urban husbandry were born from necessity. But this time, instead of growing from a lack of food, urban farmers are raising their livestock in an excess of bad food.

Brooklyn’s Backyard Chicken Keepers food curated from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Related Reads: