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On Chickens and Sustainability

I tramped out into our backyard, wearing thick rubber boots, with my arms full of leftover food. As I dumped it into the fenced area, excited clucks greeted the rice, mashed potatoes and tomato bits, while the chickens engaged in their usual feeding frenzy.  This regular scene is a part of our journey in sustainable living. The birds are helping us cut down on food waste, turning our scraps into eggs and future garden compost. What’s so strange about this experience - at least to me - is that most of my life I haven’t been much of a proponent of sustainable living or urban farming. Yet here I am. 

We grudgingly consented to one rabbit. Then two. And all jokes aside, those rabbits multiplied...

As in most of life, change comes gradually. My interest in urban farming started with one of my children who was fascinated with the natural world, and used to sit outside for hours watching the birds and lizards. We’d check out books from the library to answer her many questions, and her childlike interest just kept growing until she was reading technical books on animal science, vet medicine and farming. Realizing God had clearly given her this passion, we grudgingly consented to one rabbit. Then two. And all jokes aside, those rabbits multiplied and the urban farm was established. 

We’re city dwellers, but have the rare privilege of lots of animals and no complaints from neighbors! This type of agriculture project in a big city is only possible because we live on an old farmstead in an inner city neighborhood. Our community isn’t bothered by a few chickens or rabbits because there’s a host of more pressing needs. Even though we’re just a few miles from the NFL stadium and high-rise apartments, we are in a food desert. We have no greenways for walking and exercising. Tree canopies through our zipcode are being knocked down for warehouses and factories. Our community is directly impacted by a lack of creation care. 

Proximity affects perspective.

God gave me a child that led me into actually caring about urban farming. Then He gave us a neighborhood that opened my eyes to the real need for both sustainable food production AND the protection of green space and nature education programs. Proximity affects perspective. 

Issues I didn’t even think about before are now real to me because they are real to my neighbors: 

  • Limited access to fresh food, such has been faced by the single mom of five who didn’t have transportation to buy produce regularly. How can she ensure her family stays healthy without it?

  • Lack of opportunities for agriculture entrepreneurship, such as for the refugee families across the street. They’ve turned their small yard into a miniature Eden, and would love to farm full-time instead of working low-wage, miserable jobs. How can they access the tools and financing for this? 

  • Few growth opportunities for children, as I’ve seen that neighbor kids have hardly any safe green space to play and limited science & nature extracurricular activities. They rarely get out of the city and have almost no access to working farms. My children are learning business, science and the value of work because of our urban farm. How could this type of educational opportunity be expanded so that more children could learn and grow as well? 

  • Decreasing air quality, as our tree canopy disappears and truck traffic grows. This adversely impacts neighbors who already have limited access to health care. And the corresponding temperature rise also affects community residents who don’t have air conditioning.

God’s gift of farming, of animals, of green space, of sustainable agriculture could provide a path forward for areas like ours. Investing in this type of work doesn’t really fit the normal church “ministry” profile. But maybe it’s time to rethink the supremacy of clothing closets and food pantries in church outreach. As Proverbs 13:23 states, “The fallow ground of the poor would yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice.” Conversely then, justice should work to help those in low-income neighborhoods profit from available resources and opportunities.

We could create infrastructures of reuse and sustainability that would benefit all.

So maybe it’s time for churches and ministries to get a new vision for inner city ministry. Looking beyond handouts, we could also use church lawns to provide green space for gardening and parking lots for farmer’s markets. We could host sessions with business and agricultural training. We could advocate for our cities to provide more green spaces and to adjust zoning ordinances so small livestock could be raised in unused lots. We could create infrastructures of reuse and sustainability that would benefit all.

The chickens have finally settled down and the food I dumped is almost gone. And I marvel at how God has created our world with such order, such design, such natural tools - like these chickens - that provide easy ways to decrease waste and turn it into good.  Maybe it’s time to see chickens as an agent of God’s grace and provision.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

The Reformed family is a diverse family with a diverse range of opinions. Not all perspectives expressed on the blog represent the official positions of the Christian Reformed Church. Learn more about this blog, Reformed doctrines, and our diversity policy on our About page.

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