A Chicken In Every Plot?

My mother grew up in New Westminster. Her father, Bert Kellington, was an Alderman and much-loved hotelier in the city. He was a great big bear of a man, but unfailingly kind to people down on their luck, Mom says. During the Depression he always provided a meal to anyone in need and often a room as well.

He was killed in a tragic logging accident at a relatively young age so I never had the chance to meet him, but I’ve heard many stories. Newspaper reports say his funeral was the largest in the city’s history.

Before he died, Mom’s family spent summers at Boundary Bay. Every year they moved their entire household out to the camp, including their chickens, which rode along with them in crates attached to the running boards on each side of the car.

New Pattullo Bridge

The Pattullo Bridge was extremely narrow then and the car was too wide to get across with chicken crates strapped to the running boards on both sides, so they had to make two trips to get across. First they had to stop on the near side of the bridge and unload the chicken crates from one side of the car, then drive across the bridge and unload the other set, then drive back and pick up the crates left behind, and then reassemble once they’d got everything to the far side. They were city folk and lived well when Bert was alive, so the fact they went to so much trouble to ensure they had fresh eggs made a big impression on me.

Myself, I grew up in rural south Surrey, up on a hill just two and a half miles north of the border. We didn’t have a farm, but I happily raised chickens in our backyard for a number of years. We ate both the eggs, which were unfortunately rare, and eventually, the organically-raised birds themselves. They were delicious!

More recently, I spent twenty years living on the Upper East side of Manhattan. It was there we first got interested in cooking, and started searching out organic produce and locally-produced food at farmer’s markets. It was also there we first saw an Errol Morris-like documentary “The Natural History of The Chicken“, one of the best I’ve ever seen.

The vignettes are fascinating, heartwarming, funny and horrifying in turn. It literally changed our lives and our relationship to the food we eat, and we’ve always chosen free-range chickens and eggs when possible ever since.

125th St @ 2nd Avenue, Manhattan

And now, like me it seems, the chickens have come home to roost, so to speak, right here in downtown Vancouver. And why not I ask, when even in Manhattan, people are raising chickens …?

Humans have been raising chickens for more than 8,000 years now. They produce a perfect food, eat insects and keep pastures or lawn aerated and healthy.

It would be sheer insanity to build a homeless shelter for chickens that should provide food for the hungry, but allowing people to raise chickens and grow their own eggs creates a local, sustainable, food supply, teaches children responsibility by caring for their animals, and provides an inexpensive, healthy breakfast to families on stretched budgets.

Urban agriculture is much more about the future than the past, in other words. With our mild climate, there is every reason that Vancouver should be at the forefront of that trend.