Monday, May 19, 2008

Urban cowgirl

Years ago when I wrote a story for the Boston Globe about our foray into farming via a backyard chicken flock, I heard from lots of people, including a woman who had her "backyard" flock in her Jamaica Plain apartment. She must not have had a rooster, or the jig would most certainly have been up.

Since then, I have noticed that the chicken-human link has only grown stronger, as more people start to grow their own food, etc., and it's apparently happening even in urban areas.

We've been on this mountain for 25-plus years, but we're thinking about moving to a more urban spot, given the price of gasoline and the fact that the old farm down the road is being divided up for houselots.

Every day, we pass this place, and the view is different. Oh sure, it's always mountains, but the colors are always changing, depending on the seasons, and the mood changes with the weather--some morning severe-clear, and at other times, it's like a Chinese scroll painting--the clouds nestling in among the mountains.

Now, though, the blood pressure goes up when we pass this place and watch, as the falling-in barns are torn down, the driveways go in, big old trees are hauled out, and the hayfields are tamed and manicured into lawns. (This weekend's development: an "island" plunked into the lawn, which will soon probably host rhododendrons.) Goodbye Winslow Homer, hello Thomas Kinkade.

This fate is the end of a several-year-long story, however. Live in the hills long enough and you know this: for all our romanticizing of the New England family farm, it's an endangered species that faces impossible odds.

The farmers are getting old, the kids may be uninterested or too inept to take over. It takes as marketing skill as agricultural skill to survive now, and a lot of farmers just don't have it.

Sunday's New York Times Business section had an article with the astonishing data that the number of dairy farmers has declined from 99,000 in 1997 to about 59,000 last year, according to the USDA.

"Small dairy farmers east of the Mississippi River and in the UPper Midwest are increasingly being replaced by huge dairy farms in the West, in places like New Mexico and western Texas. Few dairy farms are even left in the Southeast."
Here in New England, we've got what those places don't: water and proximity to lots of consumers. Given the oil crunch, it is only a matter of time before smaller-scale, local farming could be economically viable again.
Meantime, trust funders are slobbering over these big pieces of land (so close to Whole Foods Market!) and the siblings in farm families are feuding over how much they can sell for. Ten-20 years from now, will there be any land to come back to?

This is the stuff you don't read about in those Gourmet magazine local produce articles!

Anyway, one topic when we talk about when we discuss leaving the countryside is whether we could raise chickens in anyplace but here. That, plus, what would we do with the tractor?

1 comment:

Pierce said...

I found your post by searching "jamaica plain rooster". I'm not sure if that woman you interviewed is still around here, but if she is, she may have gotten that rooster. Today my wife and I were walking down Burroughs Street toward Jamaica Pond at sunset and heard a rooster crow several times. It was bizarre. I didnt know where else to turn but google...