Have you ever eaten an egg straight from the farm? An egg from a hen raised outdoors on kitchen scraps, grubs and grain? That diet, and freedom of movement, creates a product with taste and texture completely different from factory or battery chickens. The yolks are richer and deeper, and the whites thicker. The flavor can be almost cheesy,
But for many of us, getting eggs from a farmers’ market is at best a monthly rather than weekly event. Want to change that? If you have just 32 square feet of backyard space—and nice neighbors—you can become an urban or suburban farmer practically overnight:
When ‘local’ is measured by footsteps rather than food miles, there’s a reason why chickens have become the mascot for the locavore movement. But before you jump in with both feet it helps to do some homework.
Try to ignore the example set by Sandra McLean, former president of Slow Food New York, who confessed, “We did no research before getting our chickens. Our neighbors in Brooklyn had five chickens and offered us two. It happened overnight.” McLean did have some childhood experience with chickens: “We couldn’t have a dog, but a chicken for some reason was manageable. We kept it in the laundry room and took it on vacations with us.”
To learn more about raising chickens for eggs, I sat down with Mark Thompson, the co-founder, with his wife, Sharleen Smith, of Eggzy.net. Their company provides easy-to-use software tools to help people manage their flocks and find a market for surplus eggs and chicks.
Step 1: Does Your Community Allow You to Keep Chickens?
If you want to raise chickens, start by checking with your local health department or Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Even when it’s legal, you still need to make sure not to create a “nuisance condition.” You don’t want neighbors complaining about the noise or smell. Before you start, let them know what you’re up to; when your birds begin to produce, share a carton now and then. And: no roosters. You don’t need them to get eggs.
Step 2: If You Were a Chicken What Would You Be?
First, determine the best breeds for your climate and neighbors. As befits their cartoony name, Foghorn Leghorns tend to be noisy. Compared to birds that are raised primarily for meat, good layers are calmer, quieter, and less flighty. Here are some of Thompson’s favorite breeds for New Hope, Pennsylvania, winters:
Plymouth Rocks: Hardy, with historical significance in the development of our nation.
Delawares: At one time America’s most popular chicken; now the basis for the US meat industry.
Speckled Sussex: Originally bred for meat; so easy to catch that they’ll jump into your arms, delighting children and adults alike.
Rhode Island Reds: America’s best layers; the basis for many commercial breeds.
Ameraucana: Pale blue shells and small pea combs; hardy in Northern winters.
Buff Orpingtons: Calm, quiet, great pets. Francie Randolph, a Truro, MA artist, calls them “so darn beautiful, like they’ve jumped out of a Renaissance painting.”
At one time there were hundreds of chicken breeds in America. Many are disappearing due to industrial farming, which tends to reduce diversity. By buying heritage breeds, you can play a part in supporting biodiversity.
Step 3: Find a Reputable Hatchery
Thompson recommends buying from hatcheries that are certified by the USDA’s National Poultry Improvement Plan. Chicks are quite affordable— a few dollars per bird. Most hatcheries have minimum orders of 15 to 25 birds, which are necessary because the chicks need one another's body heat to survive their two-day journey. So band together with some fellow urban farmers to split an order, or check Eggzy for a lock owner with a surplus.
Step 4: Build or Buy a Coop
Like the breed you pick, your coop should reflect your climate as well as local ordinances, even the design of your home. Most people have a fixed pen, with compost ground covering that is changed regularly. An arc, basically a chicken house on wheels, allows you to move chickens around the yard but keeps them caged at the same time
You will need about two square feet of interior space per bird in the coop, where the chickens can sleep protected from the elements. One-and-a-half feet of perch space per bird is ideal, with a nest box for every four birds. Ideally you’ll have an outdoor run with space, about three square feet per bird, to scratch around and look for bugs. But beware if you let them in a garden filled with carefully tended plants. McLean says, “The pullets decimated my beautiful front garden in 36 hours. They ate everything but the boxwood.”
The best coops are well ventilated, easy to walk into and keep clean. A nesting box near the front door makes life easier. Chickens live outside all year, but don’t lay as much in the winter due to lack of light (rather than lower temperatures).
Step 5: Care and Feeding
Chickens will eat food scraps from the table. Most backyard farmers provide some supplemental grain for nutrition. A 50-pound bag of feed will last four chickens for three months. McLean’s son gives her chickens dog food, which they love and occasionally eggs. Then again there was some concern about cannibalism. There are a handful of things you shouldn’t feed to chicken, like eggs (cannibalism again) and raw, dry or undercooked beans, which contain a poison called hemaglutin, which is toxic to birds.
There are practical and existential reasons to raise chickens. You get fresh eggs, rich fertilizer, bug control and an essential part of your composting system. Before you plant a garden, you can use chickens to clear and fertilize the ground. They require little effort other than changing their water, cleaning out the coop and feeding them.
A Mother Jones analysis compared eggs from battery chickens to pastured chickens and found that pastured eggs were better for you:
One-third less cholesterol
One-quarter less saturated fat
Two-thirds more Vitamin A
Two times more Omega-3 fatty acids
Three times more Vitamin E
Seven times more beta carotene
There are “soft” benefits of keeping chickens too. Chickens, because of their social structure (the famous ‘pecking order’), are fascinating to watch. Children can learn to take care of them. Thompson even describes how a friend used chickens to calm a father suffering from nervous condition. Finally, it is rewarding to know that you can play a significant part in raising your own food.
Brooklyn Bouillon takes an essential cooking basic and brings it into the foodie revolution. Here’s how…
Quick: What do you think of when you hear the word stock? Slick young traders in Brooks Brothers jackets screaming on the floor of an exchange? If you said bouillon, you probably envision the little yellow box with dried compressed cubes in foil.
But whether you call it stock, broth or bouillon (and there are subtle differences), it’s an ingredient that is essential to cuisines around the world, and these days as you will see, it can also be an important business opportunity for small farmers.
Stock is made by simmering in water various components, including meat (or poultry or fish), bones, herbs and mirepoix (a combination of finely chopped vegetables). Reducing the liquid by half or more yields a rich base for cooking, most frequently for soups and sauces. To show how essential bouillon has been to the French, the word “restaurant” appeared first in 1750 as a thing to eat rather than a place to go. Restaurant was the new name for bouillon.
All of that is pretty elementary stuff to Rachael Mamane, the 36-year old founder and owner of Brooklyn Bouillon, a company dedicated to getting you away from that little yellow box and into using her pure, superior quality liquid stock.
A Good Foundation
“From a culinary perspective bouillon is the foundation of cooking,” Mamane says, “but what’s on the store shelf is riddled with excess salt or citric acid. Store products often have MSG and hydrogenated oils. So being able to deliver stock to home cooks that is closer to what chefs are using in restaurants delivers a flavor as well as nutritive value.”
Bringing Better Bouillon to a Town Near You
Mamane owes her passion for quality ingredients to her French-Moroccan heritage, her Spanish grandmother who had an “irrepressible compulsion for cooking” and a love for farmers markets based on summers spent in Israel. She has been composing nose-to-tail meals for colleagues and loved ones for more than ten years.
“Restaurant” appeared first in 1750 as a thing to eat rather than a place to go: It was the new name for bouillon.
While she develops Brooklyn Bouillon, Mamane is keeping her day job as Director of Marketing and Support for Breadcrumb POS, an iPad-based point-of-sale system for the hospitality industry. In her spare time, Rachael, acting Secretary of Slow Food NYC, consults on social media, advertising and recipe development with regional farms, including Hudson Valley Duck Farm and Farnum Hill Ciders.
Mamane’s immediate focus is working with farmers and consumers in New York State but she hopes to expand to other states as well. In fact, she’s received inquiries from consumers from every state in the union. “There is a real interest in seeing this concept grow,” said Mamane. “It's just a matter of scaling in an intelligent way — one that honors farmers within each USDA region and in a way that is sustainable for the company.”
But why bouillon rather than, say, artisanal cheese? Mamane says that regulations around the production of artisanal products create challenges for the sustainably-minded entrepreneur. While there may be a wealth of pickled items and condiments, rarely do you see fresh or fresh-frozen products made from healthy, locally-sourced ingredients. Brooklyn Bouillon provides a fundamental building block for home cooks who care about where their food comes from and how it tastes.
At one point a strict vegetarian, Mamane read a recipe in Thomas Keller's The French Laundry on butchering a baby lamb that, amazingly, inspired her to contact a regional farmer and embark on nose-to-tail cooking. In fact, Mamane wasn't really against eating animals per se; she objected to how they were treated prior to harvest. “Learning about sustainable farming and animal welfare helped me become okay with the idea of eating meat again,” said Mamane.
Whether you call it stock, broth or bouillon, it’s an ingredient that is essential to cuisines around the world.
Now a mindful carnivore, Mamane joined the board of Slow Food NYC in 2011 with the goal of connecting those interested in good, clean, and fair food to regional farmers. The ingredients she uses for Brooklyn Bouillon include bones from humanely raised animals, organic produce, and aromatics that include fresh thyme, bay leaves and black peppercorns. Rachael’s recipe has helped farmers sell parts, like those bones, that have little value to most consumers. Dan Gibson, co-owner of Grazin’ Angus Acre farm in Ghent, New York said recently, “Brooklyn Bouillon helps us use everything in the animal. They provide us with an opportunity to help make a great pasture-raised stock.” Aromatics (herbs) come from the Farm at Miller's Crossing and Norwich Meadow Farms. All vegetable farmers must be either certified USDA Organic or farm with practices that meet those standards.
All the materials for Brooklyn Bouillon are sourced within the region. The process Mamane uses to create a concentrated product that meets USDA standards takes far longer to produce than a diluted Tetra Pak version. Her stocks can take up to six hours to produce, not including the sourcing of ingredients, of course. For customers with strict nutritional needs like autoimmune disorders, Brooklyn Bouillon stocks have certain ingredients, like duck or chicken feet, that contain a lot of collagen, which helps carries nutritional value into the body.
Mamane prefers to reduce the mixture twice, to give a nice gelatinous quality to the meat stocks. The key to a good stock is taking care with each step and removing impurities wherever possible. So Mamane washes the bones before adding them to water, then slowly brings the contents to a simmer, never a boil, skimming frequently. Cleaned vegetables are added after any blemishes or impurities are removed. She continues to skim throughout the remaining simmer time. The final product is run through a sieve at least once, and in some cases multiple times, to remove any sediment. For Mamane — as for any professional chef — the mark of a good stock is clarity. One might say just as clear as Rachael Mamane is about what her life’s work is destined to be.
Brooklyn Bouillon sells 16-ounce containers of bouillon for $8 in New York City. This is equal to 32 ounces of diluted product.
Heritage Breed Pork Posole Recipe
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