The Birds on That Brooklyn Rooftop? Chickens
Photo by Annie Novak
Each bird lays a distinctive egg
By Annie Novak
Aug. 31, 2010
Annie Novak is the founder and director of Growing Chefs, a field-to-fork food education program; the children’s gardening program coordinator for the New York Botanical Gardens; and co-founder of Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in Brooklyn.
The eggs from our hens are given to the Rooftop Farm’s community supported agriculture (CSA) shareholders. Each bird lays a distinctive egg. The most fancy bird (the Polish) lays the most innocuous white egg, while plain white-feathered Francis lays eggs of a very pale blue. Tiny Beebe lays petite and perfect eggs with a distinctly narrow top. Lila’s are medium-sized and off-white. Wren and Pecked, regular layers both, produce brown and white eggs of a more substantial size. Between the six hens, we get about four eggs on any given day. Right before the eggs comes out, they crow and fuss, vying with the buzz of biplanes circling in to land on the stretch of water south of the United Nations.
Every now and again a visitor to the Rooftop Farm asks if the chickens are there to be eaten. The high school students who built their coop suggested it even before the birds had arrived, swapping juicy recipes as they assembled the nesting boxes. For the Rooftop Farm, the choice between chicken meat versus the egg is based on economics and ethics. Were I to kill the hens, I’d lose the manure and the eggs, both of which will supply the farm all season with irreplaceable nutrients and income. As for ethics, you’d better believe that as a lifelong vegetarian I have rich and opinionated ones. Ultimately, as Wendell Berry writes in his excellent essay “Stupidity in Concentration,” our farm simply aims to show, by counterexample, “the great stupidity of industrial animal production.” Industrial meat production is unhealthy for bird and man and will no doubt eventually be remembered as one of the worst elements of our modern food system. It is truly something else to see New Yorkers fall a little in love with a chicken, holding a bird for the first time in the most unlikely of places.