Friday, December 31, 2010

Gardening, Chicken & Goat Classes on the Schedule!

We now have classes for early 2011 on our calendar! Whether you're hoping to grow some veggies for your family in your back (or front) yard, or want to raise a few chickens or dwarf dairy goats in the city, we have the class for you. All of our classes are small, with informative handouts (including resource lists) and lots of time for questions. The animal classes are hands-on, and the goat class even includes a milking demonstration!

You can click on each individual class date for more information or to register.

Animal Care
Backyard Chicken Keeping
Hands-on introduction, including: choosing the perfect chickens, chick care, housing and fencing, feeding, common chicken challenges, all about the eggs, financial considerations, livestock permitting process
Cost = $35 (includes instructional handouts)
Reviews for Backyard Chicken Keeping:
"What a great class! We learned so much and feel so much more confident and motivated about entering the world of chicken keeping. Thanks so much for an interesting and informative class." --Jennifer P.
"This class was a wonderful introduction to backyard chickens. I learned so much, and seeing the chickens (and getting to hold one) was great. I appreciated the "resource list" provided at the end, to show me where to go next (books, feed stores, web sites, in person, etc.) for more information. I highly recommend this class to anyone thinking about getting chickens." --Jenny L.

Backyard Goat Keeping
Hands-on introduction, including: choosing the perfect goats, housing and fencing, feeding, medical care, common goat challenges, all about the milk & milking demonstration, financial considerations, livestock permitting process
Cost = $35 (includes instructional handouts)
Reviews for Backyard Goat Keeping:
"I really enjoyed the class. I own 4 full size goats but knew nothing about the dwarf varieties. Came home with more knowledge than I went in with. Definitely worth my while." --Jacinda G.

Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden
Maximizing the production of your garden space, including: creating a master plan, soil preparation, seed starting, companion planting, succession planting, spacing, organic pest and disease management, composting basics
Cost = $35 (includes instructional handouts and planning chart)
Reviews for Getting the Most Out of Your Home Garden:
"I've been gardening for many years, but got a lot of helpful information out of the class. Sundari is knowledgeable and very easy to listen to and understand. I would recommend the class." --Joni E.
"Informative and very practical. Makes succession planting seem much less daunting." --Camille H.
"As someone who is new to gardening, I feel more comfortable in planning my garden after this class. I got the basic information needed to get started and a list of resources for topics I may want to explore in depth. It was also helpful to see the backyard garden to get an idea of how big I want to start. There were great planting tips as well." --April L.

If you're interested in attending a full-day workshop on Neighborhood Supported Agriculture, please email for additional information.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Update on the Food-Producing Animals Ordinance, and What You Can Do to Help

I know that waiting for your city's government to implement change can be like watching that proverbial pot and waiting for it to boil... sometimes it seems as though it's NEVER going to happen. However (sticking with our analogy) with enough heat applied over time, there will eventually be a change in the water.
Our wish for a comprehensive Food-Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance received an extra burst of "heat" recently with the formation of the Mayor's Sustainable Food Policy Council (SFPC). The SFPC's agenda will be diverse, covering a multitude of issues -- one of which is FPAs.

Right now a couple of members of the SFPC are working with folks from City Council and city staff (Department of Environmental Health/Animal Control and Community Planning & Development) to sketch an outline for a comprehensive FPA ordinance. The process began with a thorough evaluation of successful FPA ordinances in major cities across the country, and other Front Range cities close to Denver. We compiled information in 20 categories each for fowl and for dwarf goats, looking at everything from the number of animals allowed to the complaint threshold for enforcement. This group is using the successful ordinances in other cities as a springboard for an outline of what is most appropriate for Denver. For example, an ordinance allowing 8 female fowl and 2 dwarf dairy goats is well supported by what other cities are doing.

This group will present their outline of ideas to the SFPC in January. The SFPC (which consists of community leaders in the areas of food access/justice, schools, urban agriculture, public health, and more) will discuss the draft ordinance outline, bring it to their respective organizations for review, and then help formulate a final ordinance during their February meeting. At that point the proposed ordinance will enter the city's standard review process, which includes the Denver Planning Board, the Mayor-Council meeting, a City Council committee, and finally the full City Council for a vote (likely in April).

I know that all of this may sound like a tiring amount of "process," and that it has taken a while to get to this point. However, the advantage of passing an ordinance like this through City Council is that we can create a real win-win, both for FPA owners and the city as a whole. The new proposed ordinance will allow the keeping of a designated number of FPAs (probably 8 female fowl and 2 dwarf dairy goats) without the financial and logistical challenges of our current permitting process. Moreover, we will be able to structure this new ordinance with a few common sense guidelines to appease the nay-sayers out there. For example, we may ask that chicken owners have 4 square feet of permeable ground space per bird, which will effectively silence those who argue against FPAs by saying that people will be keeping chickens on balconies or in apartments.
 Right now there are several City Councilmembers who have said that they would support a comprehensive ordinance like the one the Sustainable Food Policy Council will likely put forth, and there are several more Councilmembers who are "on the fence." I believe that we can get this passed in April, but in order to do that there are 3 things that need to happen:

   1. The Sustainable Food Policy Council needs to work proactively with city staff to craft and recommend an ordinance for City Council adoption

   2.  The FPA advocates (like Sustainable Food Denver) need to join the SFPC in supporting the ordinance

   3.  Denver constituents need to contact their councilmembers and state clearly that they would like this ordinance to pass

#3 is where you can make a real difference on this issue. The City Councilmembers need to weigh the pros and cons of this issue, but they are ultimately beholden to their constituents. If you haven't already, please email with your council district, so you can be on the "Action Team" email list. Please be on the lookout for emails and postings from Sustainable Food Denver, prompting you to call or email your councilmember. Try to enlist 5 of your friends or co-workers to join the cause. I believe that, as long as the voices in favor of FPAs are heard loud and clear, we can get the ordinance we want passed through City Council. 

Thank you in advance for your help!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Winter Windowsill

This post was contributed by Lindsey, one of our Heirloom Gardens farmers. If you'd like to read more of Lindsey's wonderful musings on life, visit her blog at Rhyme, Reason, or None of the Above.

I don’t think I’ve ever purchased fresh basil in my life—and not because I’m so enlightened that I’ve always grown it myself. Instead, I have a history of approaching herbs and spices as any reasonable soul approaches wild mushrooms: they might look good, but you really shouldn’t mess with them unless you’re sure of what you’re doing. On the rare occasion that I’ve actually used a recipe and it called for basil, I turned to that neat little jar of dried green flakes that has been sitting in the back of my pantry for years.

This brings me to a shameful confession. Even during my first season as a working member of Heirloom Gardens, when the balance of herbs to veggies was a bit skewed and each week’s share contained a volume of herbs that would astonish even a committed user, I did not appreciate the fresh basil that was part of the mix. Some weeks, the bag of basil got shoved so far to the back of the fridge that I wouldn’t stumble across it until it was in an advanced stage of rot.

But this past summer, things shifted. I was determined to do a better job of processing my entire share to minimize waste. Since I’m a party of one, this meant making things that freeze well…which, on a friend’s suggestion, led me to looking up a vegan pesto recipe. (Substituting nutritional yeast for Parmesan cheese makes this version more freezer-friendly, since dairy doesn’t love deep cold.) Suddenly, there was no such thing as too much fresh basil. I mixed a heaping tablespoon of pesto in with a bowl of hot rice for a tasty breakfast. I put pesto on homemade minimalist bread for a snack. I ate so much pesto that, although I was freezing large quantities and thinking they’d be there for me when the growing season was over, I was blowing through nearly my entire backstock by the time I picked up a fresh batch of basil each week.

When the basil started to dwindle in September, I was gripped by a minor panic. What was I going to eat all winter? A world without pesto struck me as bland and barren. At the same time, I wasn’t willing to pay supermarket prices for fresh basil flown or trucked in from god-knows-where.

So one afternoon in November, I started eyeing my windowsill. I’ve tried windowsill gardening to various extents over the past three years, but never with a very satisfactory result. Still, it couldn’t hurt to try; I planted a few seeds. Nature took its course, and now every few weeks, I pluck enough basil leaves to make a small batch of pesto. Joy! And it also makes me so happy to see the green of the plants against the backdrop of the chilly city street outside my apartment window. My winter windowsill basil reminds me that, before I know it—and almost too quickly—the bounty of summer will return.

To make vegan pesto: Blend 1 1/2 c. fresh basil, 1/3 c. olive oil, 1 c. nuts (traditionally pine nuts, though I like to use a combo of pistachios and almonds), 5 cloves raw garlic, 1/3 c. nutritional yeast, and 3/4 tsp. salt in a food processor.

Great News: The Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council

Did you know:

- Less than 1% of the food that is consumed in the metro region is produced within Colorado
- Therefore, we are not currently capturing the $5.7 billion (annually) that robust local food production could add to our economy
- We are raising the first generation of children with a shorter life expectancy than their parents (due to obesity)

For these reasons (and so many more) we are thrilled about the formation of the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council. The role of the Council is still being determined by its members, but its general purposes are to:

   1. Increase food production in the City & County of Denver
   2. Enhance the food security of all Denver residents
   3. Improve access to locally produced food
   4. Improve the economic viability of urban agriculture
   5. Recognize and enhance the role of the food and agriculture system in conserving and regenerating Denver's natural resources and environment
   6. Improve health for all of Denver's residents
   7. Build awareness about the community impacts of local, healthy food access and encourage participation in Denver's local food system

The Council members were appointed by Mayor Hickenlooper, and include community leaders in urban farming, Denver Public Schools, restaurants, Denver Housing Authority, medicine/public health, food justice, land conservancy, food retail, and much more. 

We have had two meetings so far, and it is truly incredible to share a room with so many wonderfully smart, committed people. I am honored by the opportunity to participate in the council representing Heirloom Gardens and Sustainable Food Denver, and am excited by the possibilities of what we can accomplish. 

What do you think? What kind of programs, projects, and/or policy changes would you like to see happen in Denver to facilitate sustainable food systems?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hiking with the Herd

We have to breed our Nigerian Dwarf goats periodically to keep them in milk, and Peaberry (the blonde goat) gave birth back in August. Her kids were adopted by Jamie and Lance, and lovely couple who -- as luck would have it -- live in our neighborhood.

We like to take our two goats (Peaberry and Dasha) on hikes fairly regularly. Elk Meadows in Evergreen is one of our favorite places, because of the infrequency of off-leash dogs and the wide open spaces to spot any dogs that may be around. The goats all have leashes to go with their harnesses, but they actually behave much better without the leashes. Their herd mentality kicks in, and they follow allow wonderfully (instead of pulling on their leashes, as stubborn goats are liable to do).

We had our first opportunity for a group outing a couple of weeks ago, and were delighted to discover that four goats together behave even better than two. Everyone had a wonderful time, and Brian was able to snap a few photos. He put them together in a slideshow -- click here to view the photos from our goat hike. The slideshow takes about 4 minutes, and is accompanied by some lovely music.

Jamie and Lance with Willow (left) and Kosi.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Urban Conversion Launch Party

The Urban Conversion recently held a launch party to show the full pilot episode to the public at the Starz Film Center.

 Instead of a "red carpet" event, we had a green carpet!

 Rodman Schley (the host of The Urban Conversion) and his lovely wife Gina, who also appears in the show.

 Brian and me.

 Some fantastic local food activists hamming it up for the camera: Dana Miller of Transition Denver and Grow Local Colorado (center) and Teresa St. Peter (right).

 Heirloom Gardens farmers Courtney and Thecia. Thecia wore her dreads in an up-do in honor of this fancy occasion!

Local food activist, urban farmer, and former city council candidate Susan Shepherd.

James and Nikki Zitting of Bee Landing.

JD Sawyer (right) of Colorado Aquaponics, with friends Joel and AJ.

The crew from Feed Denver.
The videographer talking to attendees about what they'd like to see happen in urban agriculture.


You can't see a movie without popcorn, right?

 Getting ready for the showing.

 Questions and answers with the audience after the premiere.

 Social hour.

 Thecia with our little Heirloom Gardens/Sustainable Food Denver table.

Urban Farm magazine is one of the sponsors of The Urban Conversion.

Tim Nyman (executive producer) and Rodman, clearly exhausted after the launch party!

(To see more photos from the launch party, click here.)

Mayor's Design Awards Ceremony

Heirloom Gardens was honored to receive a 2010 Mayor's Design Award. The ceremony was held at the fantastic Mercury Cafe, and the awards were given by Deputy Mayor Bill Vidal and Community Planning and Development Manager Peter Park. I was thrilled that several of the Heirloom Gardens farmers were present at the ceremony to celebrate. We're so happy that the work of Neighborhood Supported Agriculture is being recognized in this way by the city. 
Accepting the award from Deputy Mayor Vidal and Peter Park.

Little shout-out to the cheering farmers in the crowd.

What a lovely group of urban farmers! (from left: Lindsey, Shannon, Thecia, Courtney, Sundari, Denise, Deputy Mayor Vidal, Brenda)

Chad and Melody arrived a little late, but we had to be sure to get a photo of them with the award too!

The band getting ready to play. Doesn't the room look beautiful?

The food was fantastic, and most of it was locally sourced. My favorite was the Haystack Mountain goat cheeses!

Melody and Chad bustin' a move on the dance floor...

On our way home... hooray for agriculture in Denver!

(Thanks to Brian Kraft Photography for the wonderful pictures.)

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Anti-Chicken Contingent, and a Local Tragedy

It is truly remarkable to see how agitated people can get about the idea of a few 5-pound hens living in their neighborhood. I've been doing Food-Producing Animal (FPA) advocacy work for a long time, and I've become used to the reaction that the mere thought of a handful of small birds can produce.

I understand that, for many people, their fears are based on a lack of familiarity with the animals in question. They have concerns about noise, odor, waste, disease, and/or rodents attracted to the chicken food. Of course, dogs also have the potential to create problems because of noise, odor, waste, disease, and/or rodents attracted to the food, but because people are familiar with dogs, these problems are accepted as a matter of course.

This dichotomy is explored wonderfully by Tim Krohn in an article he wrote on the subject for The Free Press. (Click here for the full article -- it's definitely worth a read.) He deconstructs the argument that "farm animals belong on a farm," by pointing out that domesticated dogs and cats were also initially intended to be farm animals, too.

You may notice that the arguments around allowing FPAs in cities often end up comparing chickens or dwarf goats to dogs (with unflattering results). After all, dogs are known to bite and behave aggressively toward people, whereas "attack" chickens or goats aren't an issue. Dogs carry far more diseases that are transferable to humans than FPAs. The manure from dogs (and cats) is toxic to humans and cannot be used as fertilizer, but FPA manure is great for the garden. Also, dogs tend to make noise when they're scared or threatened, whereas FPAs (because they're prey animals) respond to threats by becoming very still and quiet. And yet, cities happily allow dogs with no space restrictions and a minimum licensing requirement, but FPAs are typically banned outright or require expensive/extensive permitting.

[As a side note... because I bring up the above discrepancies in FPA debates, I am sometimes accused of being "anti-dog."  In fact, I own a dog named Lucy, and she is in the running for the most adored dog of all time. So, no -- I don't hate dogs.]
But, back to the fervor that is often inspired by the idea of hens in the city. It is fairly easy to address concerns about noise, odor, waste, disease, and rodents. These potential problems are far less treacherous than many people assume that they might be, and they can typically be addressed using a city's existing animal ordinance (i.e. just apply the noise rules for dogs to chickens). However, that is rarely the end of the debate. Once any logical concerns are addressed, anti-chicken people often retreat to the stance that they just "don't want it" (as did the mayor of Longmont, in this article).

If the birds don't actually cause any problems, then why don't people want chickens next door? Every person has their own reasons, but there are a couple of things that I've seen stand out during the various discussions I've had. Sometimes it's a class thing -- farms (and everything associated with them) are seen as "dirty," whereas cities are modern and "clean." Of course, this is completely illogical, but that doesn't matter. It's the poor people, you see, who have to get their hands dirty with farmwork. Rich people can afford to go into the Safeway and buy their eggs in pretty white styrofoam cartons. This explains why often the fiercest anti-urban-chicken people are ones who grew up on farms, or are only one generation removed. They worked hard to get away from the farm and "move up" to the city, and the last thing they want is for the distinction between farm and city to get even a little bit blurry.

There's another reason why some people oppose FPAs in cities, and it's pretty controversial. Frankly, in some cases (not all, of course) there's racism at the root of it. There's worry that "those people" are infiltrating America, and bringing their filthy animal-keeping ways with them. (Of course, our "American" way of raising chickens in huge concentrated animal feed operations is plenty filthy, with the diseases to go along with it.) Some people think that if we allow the keeping of 6 hens in a city backyard, before you know it chickens will be roaming the streets and Denver will resemble Tijuana. If a newspaper runs an article on urban chickens, the comments section will soon become filled with references to "Mexico" and "third-world country."

So, all of the people who are advocating for FPAs in their cities have a lot to contend with, as do those who are quietly raising FPAs in their backyards. This brings me to a very sad story. I have a friend who has been lovingly keeping a small flock of chickens in a suburb of Wheat Ridge, just a few minutes from me. Her animals have not caused any problems, and her next-door neighbor didn't even realize that she still had her birds. However, two nights ago, someone sprinkled a fast-acting poison throughout her coop and run, including the birds' feeder and waterer.

Her birds all died, quickly. In addition to losing her chickens, my friend's wonderful organic yard is now a toxic waste dump. The police are pursuing the case.

I realize that 99.999999999% of the people who oppose urban FPAs would never dream of doing something as despicable as this. However, the fear-mongering and fervent anti-chicken rhetoric can have consequences. 

The hens, on a happier day... what a tragic loss.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Food For Thought

Feeling a little confused about The Food Safety and Modernization Act (S. 510) ? Check out this discussion on Grist, with well-articulated views from people both for and again. (Note: this article was posted a few days ago; S. 510 has since passed the Senate.)

There's a movement afoot to keep Michael Pollan (and his sustainable food production ideas) off of college campuses, especially big ag schools.

An uplifting story from NPR about farmers in Malawai diversifying their planting, and improving their health as a result. However, a little disconcerting footnote at the end from the agricultural economist who wants instead to help the farmers grow "more corn on each acre." I suspect that his plan may include GMOs...

You can have this Pop-Tart when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands! How the focus on healthy eating is viewed by some as cultural warfare (in the Washington Post).

A federal judge ordered the destruction of GMO sugar beets after they were planted illegally. Earthjustice and the Center for Food Safety successfully argued that farmers and consumers would likely suffer harm from cross-contamination between the genetically modified and non-genetically modified crops. Hooray!

Homesteading makes the "Money" section of U.S. News & World Report! A sweet little article on "How to Become a Modern Homesteader."

Want to know if there's a factory farm near you? Check out this Factory Farm Map.

The Urban Conversion Visits Colorado Aquaponics

The great folks at The Urban Conversion recently paid a visit to JD Sawyer, of Colorado Aquaponics. JD has set up 3 different aquaponic systems in The GrowHaus, and he's showing Rodman the ropes.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coming Soon to a Bookstore (Very) Near You...

A few months ago I was presented with a wonderful -- and unexpected -- opportunity. Thanks to a referral from my friend and fellow (formerly urban, now rural) homesteader Everett, I was contacted by an editor with Penguin Publishing about writing a book. Specifically, they asked me to write "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading."

As an aside, I've always been a big fan of the Idiot's Guides. I like the way they're formatted, I like their humor, and I find them approachable and informative. In fact, a few years ago I had some sort of a homesteading question and thought it would be a good excuse to purchase an urban homesteading book. So, I went online to try and find the Idiot's Guide on the subject. I did a search and came up short. I remember thinking, "I can't believe they haven't published that book yet. Someone should write it!"

Well, hold on to your hats, because "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading" will be available in June 2011. It will include all kinds of information for those that are trying to live more sustainably and self-sufficiently in the city, including biointensive gardening (on your land, on someone else's land, or on no land at all), and food-producing animals (chickens, dwarf goats, rabbits, bees, and fish). It also covers how to make your own natural soaps, body care products, and cleaning supplies; canning, preserving, and storing your harvest; making homemade cheese, yogurt, and butter; energy- and water-wise living; recycling, composting, foraging, alternative currencies, and much more! There's even a "how-to" section on changing your city's zoning code to make it more homesteading-friendly. Every part of the book contains suggestions both for those who have a yard and for those who live in apartments, and there are lots of tips for beginners who are interested in homesteading but want to start small.

The process began in late August and the draft was completed in mid-November; it's now being edited by the publishing folks. The book will contain several pictures from our urban homestead, lovingly photographed by the wonderful Brian Kraft Photography. There have been so many people in our local sustainability community who generously contributed their knowledge to the book, and for their help I am forever grateful. I also owe a debt of gratitude to the wonderful farmers of Heirloom Gardens, who kept the NSA running during the later part of the season while I was preoccupied with writing. Thank you!