There’s a great myth in the world of sustainability, and it goes something like this: to be sustainable you have to do everything on your own. No help, no partnerships, no community, no nothing. Eric Knutzen of Root Simple (one of my heroes) called this kind of lone gun sustainability “a fool’s errand.” And, he’s right. Remember in your 4th grade afternoon social studies lesson, when you learned about city-states? Why did our ancestors live in communities? Why didn’t they live alone, in the wilderness? Simply put, because isolation for humans is not sustainable. Living in communities means safety in numbers, a division of labor for large tasks, and specialization so all community members don’t necessarily need to perform all tasks. This last item, specialization, is at the heart of starting a neighborhood chicken co-op.
Producing our own food, each in our own backyards, can be a lot of work (you can take my word on that). The reality is that it doesn’t have to be – the labor can be divided if community members specialize in certain aspects of food production. Take a community chicken co-op for instance. Several families come together, they share costs, they split labor, everyone gets eggs for breakfast, and manure for the garden, and no one household is overwhelmed (i.e. you can still take a summer vacation). The steps to starting a community chicken c0-op are not complex, and some of them are also not easy. Here’s the quick list for reference:
- Find three other families within walking distance of your house who want to join in on a chicken co-op (this is arguably the hardest step).
- Determine how many birds will support the families involved.
- Identify skills within the group (designing, building, animal husbandry, organizing, budgeting, resource scrounging, etc.).
- Make a list of tasks and ask for volunteers (if you get no volunteers, drop your current partners and seek out other families – it’s a bad sign if no one steps forward to work on this project except you).
- Determine the location of the community chicken coop – either which family is willing to house the chickens, or the best location if more than one family offers up their backyard.
- Select a build date for the coop, and order chicks or chickens (depending on if you want to raise day olds, or start with mature birds).
- Build the coop as a group – all families should be represented on build day.
- Add the chickens (if the chickens are fully feathered), feeders, waterers, and nest boxes.
- Determine a duty roster and rotate flock care as appropriate for the families.
- Collect funds monthly to pay for feed and other costs.
- Enjoy fresh eggs, a closer community, and some peace of mind.
Like I said, the steps aren’t complex, but they’re not necessarily easy either. Getting folks on the same page is some of the hardest sustainability work there is. We like our lives not connected to other people – it seems simpler. I would suggest that this belief is a false economy. Simplicity is found in scaling back what we have to do each day, and working together is the best way to do that.
By the way, the above list works just as well for community gardens (each family takes a set of vegetables each year, and then the crops are rotated the next year), community bee hives, fruit trees, meat rabbits, and raising fish. There is no reason for you to do it all, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t have it all – we just need to work together. So, consider this post the official invitation for you to reach out to your friends and neighbors for the purpose of creating food producing communities. Get together with folks, work together with folks, and reap the benefits. Communities exist for a reason – its’ time we start leveraging those benefits again. And, if you live on my block, stop on by. I would love to do something great, together.