A relatively new phrase—though hardly a novel concept—has surfaced in the wake of the triple trends of pursuing sustainability, sourcing food locally and avoiding overly processed products: “Urban food.”
It refers to the growing numbers of city folks who are raising backyard chickens (or rabbits) planting fruit trees and expanding their garden plots with a vengeance. The goal really isn’t self-sufficiency, but rather finding ways to supplement supermarket fare with healthier—if not cheaper—food that can be procured merely by stepping out the back door.
And that can (partially) detach consumers from dependence on Big Food in the form of mega-producer-processors and multinational supermarket and fast-food chains.
It’s happening all over America. In my residential neighborhood of some 250 square blocks—located in a mid-sized, blue-collar community of about 125,000 people—there are at least two dozen chicken coops, hundreds of backyard gardens, a pair of rooftop gardens and a four-acre community field alongside the Snohomish River where residents tend to everything from goat pens to grape vines to multiple garden plots exhibiting varying degrees of attention as summer lengthens each year.
Nationally, there are more than 43 million household gardens, which return an average of $500 worth of produce for the approximately $70 annual investment in seeds, fertilizer, tools, etc., according to 2010 data from the National Gardening Association.
But the trendiest aspect of urban food production isn’t growing veggies, it’s raising livestock—primarily chickens (with an estimated 700,000 practitioners nationwide, according to Backyard Poultry magazine) but now including pigs, as well.
Which is more than interesting, because chickens are famously low-maintenance; pigs are not. Chickens can be kept in a small, low-cost enclosures; pigs cannot. Chickens never grow beyond a small, easily manageable size; pigs, not so much.
In a recent series of articles in Mother Earth News, for decades the self-proclaimed “bible” of household self-sufficiency, blogger Kyle Chandler-Isacksen detailed the experience of raising a couple pigs in the backyard.
As soon as the family began considering urban pig farming, Chandler-Isacksen wrote that friends, neighbors and social media contacts emerged to share their (allegedly) horrific experiences, including such “pig wisdom” nuggets as:
- They stink!
- They’re mean
- They’re noisy
- They’ll eat anything