Suburban Backyard Chickens

chickens

Sorry for the hiatus – I spent most of November and December locked in the library finishing up my thesis. After that I spent my winter break bouncing between informational interviews in San Francisco and taking care of chickens…yes, you heard that right, chickens. And that’s actually what I write about.

First, allow me to preface this post with the fact that I am afraid of birds. So when I agreed to pet sit for my new neighbors, I assumed I would just be feeding some fish or scooping a litter box – not letting five chickens out to roost and collecting eggs. I mean, who keeps chickens in their suburban backyard? Apparently quite a few people do…and for good reason.

As it turns out, chickens are an incredibly environmentally friendly pet choice. First, just look at their eggs. Not only is it convenient to wander into your backyard for fresh eggs, but those eggs have virtually no carbon footprint. Talk about a “local” food source! Not to mention, they’re downright delicious. Plus, because you’re raising the chickens yourself, you know what the chickens were fed and what their living conditions were. Organic, cage-free, whatever – it’s more than just a label on a package.

But, to my surprise, chickens offer more than just eggs. The birds are scavengers and can be fed much of your kitchen waste (though I don’t recommend feeding them leftover pot-pie if you know what I mean). For those of you who don’t have a compost collection, this is a great alternative to help keep scraps out of landfills. Plus, at the other end of the spectrum, chicken waste is an excellent and nutritious fertilizer for your garden.

Who knew chickens were so green?

Now before you go out and get a few chickens, I will warn you there is a time commitment associated with them. You’ll need to feed them, let them out in the morning, put them in at night and clean their coop. Plus, I would do some research on which variety of chicken you want – what size works best for you, what type of egg production do you want, etc. After my experience, I would recommend a heritage-breed variety; they’re not only beautiful and quirky, but they’re threatened by modern production standards and their numbers are beginning to dwindle. Forget about them as an entrée and start thinking about chickens as pets.

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Is Fair Trade Really Fair?

Screen shot 2013-07-12 at 11.48.24 AMYou’re standing around in the grocery store trying to figure out what coffee to purchase. It’s not longer a simple question of regular or decaf, or even just brand loyalty. Now you’re choosing between things like roasts and flavors and organic and fair trade. I know that a pumpkin spice blend will probably taste like autumn in a cup, but does fair trade coffee taste like freedom?

What exactly is fair trade? According to Fair Trade USA, the largest coffee fair trade certifier, it’s a “global movement to alleviate poverty in farming communities around the world in ways that are socially and environmentally sustainable.” Sounds pretty great – paying a few extra bucks out of your pocket to help protect the planet, build businesses, fight poverty and empower farmers. But remember, you’re also paying for that “green image” and the fancy seal on your coffee bag.

Let me be clear, I am not against fair trade; in fact, compared to most environmentalists, I’m a pretty avid supporter of it. But I support the foundation of the movement, the roots, not necessarily what it has turned in to.

Here are the facts.

Fair trade has helped thousands of farmers go from loosing money in coffee production, to actually being able to turn a profit. That being said, it doesn’t really allow them to make much of a profit. The “C Trade” requires growers make $1.40 a pound, whether their coffee sells for $4 a pound…or $14. Fair trade levels the playing field, but it also squanders opportunity for growth. You might ask, “But where does all the money go?” There’s growers, roasters, distributers, etc. And don’t forget that you’re paying for sustainable growing standards as well. There’s a lot at play, to say the least.

So is fair trade really fair? That’s not really a conclusion I can draw for you. Fair trade has its fair share of pros and cons and it’s up to you to take a stance. Just know that with every purchase of coffee you are pledging your loyalty – the only question is to whom.

Good for You, Good for Eugene

market-homework-lgI’ve recently started doing research for a new client through one of my journalism courses. My client is the Lane County Farmers Market…but the problem is they don’t know who their client is. And, perhaps more importantly, they don’t know why people are choosing to shop at their market.

As someone who quite often frequents the farmers market, I’ve started to ask myself (and other shoppers) what it is that keeps me coming back. Most responses included mentions of the local produce, the freshness of the products and getting to know the farmers. All this information is well and good, but I think it hints at something more…

We’re not just braving the heat and crowds for flat of strawberries – we’re doing it because, whether consciously or not, we’re buying into the local food movement. It’s not that the farmers market is more convenient or better priced than the super market, one might even argue the opposite, but rather people are coming back week after week to do some good for their community.

Maybe it is a niche market, but it is growing. A city as green as Eugene has really embraced the market, making it a staple in many people’s weekly routines. Shoppers know that with every piece of produce purchased, we are supporting our local economy. And knowing the farmers, knowing where your food comes from, that’s not just a passing trend. It is a grassroots movement that many Eugene locals have adopted, and it is something my client needs to capitalize on.

Sustainable. Organic. Fresh. Local. These are key ingredients in what makes the famers market so unique. LCFM needs embrace this mentality and expand its market whilst still representing these core customer values. Simply, others need to know not only why customers choose to shop at the farmers market, but also why they keep coming back; they need to know that LCFM is good for you and good for Eugene.