Back in 2008, I had a lot to say about the state of things, and reading back through some of those old essays is interesting in their timeliness - in four years, things are pretty much the same - or worse. We didn't pay attention to what was happening, and for the most part, it seems like we're still not paying attention - or worse, we've become complacent, and feel like we have no control, and so we'll just do nothing.
That's the case with so many of Americans who live in the suburbs, like me. Since there are written and stated rules in their neighborhoods against certain things, they just decide to not look for alternatives.
Fittingly, on April Fool's Day, 2008, I was contemplating the alternatives.
The High Price of Food
I stopped at the feedstore on our way home from class today to pick up chicken feed. Last time I bought feed, several months ago, it was $9 and some change for a 50lb bag. Today, I paid $10.90. That's a big jump in price in such a short period of time. [Update 2012: chicken feed is now $14.10 for 50 lbs. Rabbit feed has gone up even more and we're paying $15.65 for a 50 lb bag].
It's still cheaper to buy feed for my chickens and eat their eggs than it is to buy eggs from the grocery store. In fact, in what is looking like the increasingly nearer future, it might be that raising chickens becomes more of a necessity than the hobby that it is for me right now [Update 2012: we haven't bought eggs from the store in over two years. Raising chickens is no longer a hobby, but our way of life : )].
They also had meat birds at the feedstore, and as soon as the snow melts, I'll be getting a few of those. I just need a snow-free patch of ground on which to build a temporary shelter to protect them from runaway neighborhood dogs and raccoons for long enough that they can get fat and juicy.
And there were some beautiful little bunnies for sale at $12 a piece. Big Little Sister is thinking that raising rabbits to sell to some of the local, seasonal restaurants might be a nice cottage industry, and I'm liking her entrepreneurial spirit [Update 2012: we now have two breeding does, an angora who will be bred when she's old enough and a buck. We're not selling to restaurants, but it's a possibility].
Deus Ex Machina and I were talking this morning about food. He said, in effect, that those people who believe they can't raise animals for food in the suburbs and can only have cats or dogs for pets might be wise to consider that our cultural bias is the only thing that keeps those "acceptable" animals from being food.
He's right, but I think there are other options besides having Fido stew. [for the record, I won't and don't eat dogs or cats - they have other purposes and can be trained to do things that our livestock can not do].
I said, in the comments section of one post some time ago, that if I couldn't have chickens outside in a coop, because my neighborhood said I couldn't, I'd be raising these guys or some other bantam breed. Bantams are smaller chickens, but many are good layers, and they don't require as much space as a full-sized breed. My chicken book says that a bantam needs about half the space of a regular hen. I'd raise them inside my house. I live in a 1500 sq ft house with my three daughters, my husband and our two dogs. Three years ago, my two adult children and two cats also shared this house. If the average-sized house in a HOA restricted subdivision is 2500 sq ft, it seems to me that there's plenty of extra space to house a few bantams inside. or in a basement or garage.
Also in the comments section, someone stated that in some subdivisions, rabbits can only considered pets (and, therefore, allowed), if they are kept inside. Okay? What's the problem? Keep two as breeders inside in separate cages. An adult male and an adult female should ONLY be put together when you intend to make babies. You can breed them three times per year, and they have around five babies each time. You only have to keep the babies ten weeks before they're ready to be harvested. So, for most of the year, it would only be the two. I don't see the problem, unless your HOA rules state that your bunny has to be spayed or neutered.
In her book, Possum Living, Dolly Freed relates how she raised rabbits and chickens in her basement. Raising animals for food inside one's house can be done. I guess for some people, it's that cultural bias again. My grandmother thought ALL animals should live outside, and she'd get really mad when we let the cats inside the house. Rabbits can be litter-boxed trained, and while I wouldn't give my chickens free-rein of my house, I can't really see a big difference between keeping a parakeet in a cage and keeping a chicken inside in a cage ... except that the chicken will give me eggs, and the parakeet's only draw is his pretty song.
In an oil-starved future where food may be scarce, the chicken in the cage sounds like a better deal to me.
Of course, if you don't like the idea of sneaking around and risking fines, there are other options. In Peru, guinea pigs are raised for meat. I'll bet no HOA in this country restricts having guinea pigs. And it might not be a well-known fact, but ALL birds are edible. What does the neighborhood say about tiny, little quail?
The thing that may be required in the very near furture is creativity and a loosening up of our definition of "food."
The other thing that will be required is a willingness to question the Status Quo. Like that little girl in South Portland. She wanted chickens, they said "No", she said, "Are you sure?" They said, "Okay, go ahead." Yes, they imposed an armload of restrictions, but it's a start.
One small step. Today it's chickens. Tomorrow it may be goats, like in Seattle, Washington
A quote on one of the blogs I frequent says, "If I have a message, it is this: You can do it. So don't bother with excuses and explanations. Show me what you are doing. Now."
I guess that's what I've been trying to say. DO something about it.
*****************In addition to the article that I would make today, four years later, is that one should start now, because there is a learning curve, and we may not have as much time to make mistakes as we had back then.