If you are going to read books about how awesome urban farming is (Spring Warren's The Quarter Acre Farm) or how wonderful it is to live off what you raise (Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral), then I think you should skip the next sixteen "How I, an urbane lady who loves Sephora, came to grow my own food/teach inner-city children what kohlrabi was/find intense life lessons in agriculture while keeping all my upper-middle-class cultural capital and privilege so I could sell a memoir" recommendations Amazon will give you, and skip straight to Josh Kilmer-Purcell's The Bucolic Plague.
Here is the book in a nutshell: Josh and his husband Brent buy a farm in upstate New York. Then they spend their lives doing one of three things:
1. Working grinding, high-paying jobs in Manhattan so as to afford the farm and its attendant mansion.
2. Taking trains between Manhattan and Albany.
3. Working 18-hour days at the farm. On their weekends. Before doing #2 in order to do #1.
It all sounds hellish and pretty much is, until in the final chapters of the book, personal growth is had, the reader is reminded how handy it is to have friends in high places in the New York media world, and the boys keep the farm.
(You may or may not also recall that later, the guys finally get to release Kilmer-Purcell from his 1-2-3 grind by dint of going on the Amazing Race and using the stealth strategy, "We only need to come in first once." The prize money paid off the mortgage on 1802 Beekman and now they're empire-building. If I give in to the temptation to buy some of their goat-milk caramel, I'll do a full taste test.)
ANYWAY. The point is that, unlike the procuring of food, growing the stuff is a tedious, never-ending process. And this is coming from someone who likes gardening.
But the thing about gardening is, you can sort of set it on autopilot. So long as you're not doing something boneheaded like watering plants at high noon, you can pretty much weed, mulch, amend soil, thin plants, transplant seedlings or water at any time. Throughout 2007, I did most of my gardening after 9 p.m. at night, by the light of an L.L. Bean headlamp. Our herb bed and tomatoes were pleasingly productive.
It's not so easy to go on autopilot with living creatures. Recently, my sister-in-law and her family went on a lengthy road trip, so Phil and I were tasked with checking on her five-chicken flock. Backyard chickens have become a thing here in Alameda; walk a block in any direction and you'll see a coop in someone's yard.
Chickens are creepy little mofos, with their freaky warm scaly feet, and the bob-bob-bob of their heads, and their brutal pecking order. I suspect that if I hadn't seen the Jurassic Park sequel, where the tiny little Compsognathus dinosaurs kill and eat Peter Stormare, I might not be so leery of chickens, but I can't un-see the pretend dinosaurs and so, every time Deborah's flock go stalking through her yard, I'm waiting for them to herd one of the children into a prey position.
(At left: Yes. Just like that.)
Deborah trusts us with the chickens, and we get to have any eggs the birds lay. (The picture at top shows HALF of what we took home over six days.) The eggs are delicious. However, the chicken-hating part of my brain always points out that the yolks aren't luridly orange, the color that apparently broadcasts how wholesome the chickens' lives are, and how wholesome you're about to be by extension. But I blame these chickens. They're dinosaurs in drag, and therefore planning to supplement their diet with a child or two.
Taking care of the chickens last week -- a task I shunted to Phil, who would go over during the time in which I was wrestling our daughter into bed -- only underscored the downside to keeping any sort of livestock. You can't click "x" to close a window when you're tired or want to do something else. Animals are a commitment. You are saying that you are fine with the low-frequency buzz of obligation shaping every day of your life. Are the eggs really worth it?
I don't know. They are pretty tasty and they do keep at room temperature for a while, provided you don't wash them.
I think what I need to do is not keep chickens but rather, cultivate some chicken-keeping friends, then discreetly inquire about egg sales. A dozen eggs for how ever many dollars. Plus, of course, the selfless offer to run point and keep the chickens from remembering that they're distant cousins to the Compsognathus.