About Us - Updated


This link will take you to a news report from 2009 on our three year effort to legalize chicken keeping in the city of Ypsilanti.


A LITTLE HISTORY - The Thomason family has been farming in the same part of Richland Parish Louisiana for almost two-hundred years, but our 1/10th acre urban eco-micro farm is located in historic downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan. It is easily reached from I-94 or US-23. We are just a few miles east of Ann Arbor and thirty miles west of Detroit. We raise Mini-Nubian-Nigerian-Dwarf goats , Hubbard ISA Brown French hens, and Lionhead Dwarf rabbits.

We grow organic vegetables for our own use and sell our surplus through the Ypsilanti Downtown Farmers Market along with artisinal cheeses made by Aubrey Thomason

We plan to add mushrooms to our growing mix this year and will post more about that exciting development as it happens.

OTHER BLOGS - To read more about families coping with substance abuse click on this link http://hopeforourfamilies.blogspot.com

To read more of Peter's articles and essays on urban farming, Christian thought, home economics, coffins, and other topics click on this link http://notmyplans.blogspot.com

Stay tuned for more information and visit often!

Poultry in Motion - Why are There Chickens in the City?

August 2007 - When people ask me, and they frequently do, why we have chickens living in our Ypsilanti City yard, I usually answer, "for the eggs."

But the truth is, the main reason we have them is that it pleases my wife. And, if my wife is happy, most of the time, I am too.

What I’m referring to is the inestimable value of pleasure that philosopher-farmer Wendell Berry speaks of in, "Economy and Pleasure," an essay that should be required reading for anyone who refuses to accept the idea that a monetary bottom line is the only "real" bottom line.

There are many things about having chickens in the city that please us: gathering dew-laden forage for them early in the morning; neighbor children stopping by to feed them broccoli leaves or bugs from our garden; the cooing sounds they make when you stop for a few moments to watch them; the way they like to fly up and to sit on your shoulders when you go into the coop; the smile on our grandson Sam’s face when he sees the "chichens;" our grand-daughter Judah riding on the hood of a tractor in the Heritage Festival Parade pulling a mobile coop-float with all twelve hens inside; and of course, there are the eggs.

For several years we tried to sell our house, move to the country and start a farm but, the times and the market were against us and we finally accepted that, at least for the time being, we were going to have to stay where we were. Not that we had a problem with being here, we just felt a need to reconnect with our agrarian roots.

The thought that we were not going to be able to do that was depressing but we did our best to let go of it and to focus on growing as much of our food as we could on our one-tenth of an acre city lot.

Then one day it just got to her and she said, "I don’t ask for much. I don’t want jewelry or fancy cars, I just want to have some chickens."

My wife’s distress about this weighed on me for weeks until it finally occurred to me one day to check the city’s animal control ordinance. Though it did not specifically prohibit chickens - it allows keeping "common cage birds" and other pets – a call to the city attorney for clarification confirmed that, according to the city’s corporate and legal interpretation, they were not allowed.

This just made me more determined than ever so I decided to try to amend the ordinance by first getting the support of two city council members and then making a presentation to the public meeting of the whole council.

The members I approached had grown up in the city and remembered the days when chickens and goats were allowed to live in backyards. They supported my request for an amendment to the council but, when the mayor was dismissive of any real discussion on the subject, one of them backed down and helped "her honor" derail the prescribed process into a bureaucratic dead end.

I had not even been given the opportunity to present the details of the proposed amendment. It made me angry that a perfectly legitimate request by a tax-paying citizen could be summarily rejected on the basis of an elected official’s personal bias – she had made it known from the time I made my first presentation that she had no interest in allowing it to happen.

When I came home from the meeting the night of the vote, my wife asked how things had gone.

I answered, "we have chickens in the city!"

To which she, elated, replied, "You mean we can have chickens?"

"No," I answered tersely. "What I mean is that we already have them. They are roosting down in the city council chambers."

Later, I apologized to her for insulting the birds.

The Michigan Right to Farm Act of 1981 is little known among city dwellers because it doesn’t impact us much. That is, unless you happen to live on the outskirts of a town that has been developed through the acquisition of nearby farms.

Where farms are still operational and close enough to subdivisions to be smelled or heard, those agricultural activities are protected, and rightly so because we need them, as long as they follow GAAMPS – an acronym for Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices.

We need local farms, especially small family owned farms, for a whole variety of reasons which cannot just be described in economic terms.

Using the law to support having chickens in our backyard did not occur to me until I was being interviewed by Michigan Radio several months later and the interviewer suggested I look into the case of a suburban Michigan woman who had successfully used it in defense of her flock of goats. It is a surprisingly strong law, and, to my knowledge, all attempts to modify it have fallen flat.

Two recent Michigan Court of Appeals rulings - one involved a riding stable and the other a nursery - have upheld it to the extent that it trumps even local zoning requirements and ordinances.

The catch for backyard chicken keepers – or urban micro farmers like us - is that the law appears to be designed to protect those engaged in agricultural activities for commercial purposes.

We don’t have a problem with that because, as produce growers – we sell to a local food cooperative – we fit the IRS and the USDA description of farmers.

We file a Schedule F with our Federal 1040 and we also follow GAAMPS. I can imagine that the protections would be extended to subsistence farmers as well.

So, there it is. Why are there chickens in the city? It’s really all about the pursuit of happiness.

Peter Thomason is a part-time urban farmer and a carpenter. He has lived in the Ypsilanti area for 32 years with his wife Rebecca and nine of their ten children.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Circuit Court Ruling

A few weeks ago we got word from the Circuit Court that the lower court ruling was sustained. In effect, what this means is, barring some other stay, the surplus animals have to find another home. I can keep the 4 legal chickens but the ducks, goats, and the other 6 hens are not allowed. Still considering a direct appeal to the City Council but I have been busy with so many other things that I have not been able to get to that yet.

In the meantime, I will still be doing another chicken workshop through Project Grow, follow this link to sign up http://www.projectgrowgardens.org/classes-events. Not sure if it has been added yet but the date is April 30 and starter kits of 4 chicks and the other essentials will, once again, be available.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Goats Day in Court

Our attorney David Santacroce of the U of M Law Clinic made an eloquent appeal to Judge Donald Shelton that the Ypsilanti City animal control ordinance had been unlawfully enacted. The basis for this is our belief that the Michigan Right to Farm Act states that no municipality shall prohibit agricultural activities without first getting the permission of the Michigan Agriculture Commission.

As with many legal cases, the outcome of ours hangs on the interpretation of a word or phrase. In this case it is whether the RTFA requires municipalities to obtain the permission of the MAC. As lawyers like to say, "Ambiguity is our friend, it is how we make our money!" No lack of ambiguity here. Fortunately for us, Prof. Santacroce and the students of the clinic have been able to argue this case pro bono, at no cost, to us. Otherwise we would never have been able to take it this far.

The outcome remains uncertain; we will not have a written opinion from Judge Shelton for 30 to 60 days.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Goats Have Their Day in Court

Well friends, tomorrow is a big day. We go to court on an appeal of a lower court ruling about the Ypsilanti City animal control ordinance. I will report on the out come once their is a decision!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Urban Farming Notes May 8, 2010 - Local Food Production Infrastructure

Not surprisingly, as food production came to rely on the availability of cheap fuel and energy for importing and transportation, local processing infrastructure gradually disappeared.

My friend Earl, from whom I buy alfalfa, grows 500,000 pounds of grains on about 200 acres near Saline, Michigan. He has to truck all of it, 30,000 lbs at a time to Toledo, Ohio, an hour away, where there is a grain elevator and a mill. He used to be able to take it to an elevator in Bridgewater, a mile and a half away. He has no idea where his soybeans, oats, corn, or wheat go from there, For all he knows they are turned into animal feed, or shipped to Russia, or bought by the U.S. Government, rot in a warehouse or processed elsewhere and eventually shipped back to stores in Michigan.

In terms of sheer raw food weight, what he grows in one year would only meet the needs of the population of Washtenaw County (350,000 souls) for less than a day. This is based on my estimate that it takes about 2 lbs of raw food per day to feed the average American. The USDA estimate is much higher - 4.5 pounds - which may be right given the fact that 1 in 4 people in America is considered obese. Try to visualize 700,000 pounds of food being consumed per day and that is just our county!

If you take 2 lbs as an average and there are roughly 307,000,000 people in the U.S. and 6,700,000,000 in the world, that adds up to 614,000,000 pounds of food consumed in the U.S per day and 13,400,000,000 pounds of food (6,700,000 tons) consumed in the world per day - more or less. (More likely, there is more food consumed per capita in the U.S. and Europe than elsewhere in the world.) In other words, what Earl and 26,800 other farmers his size produce in one year would be able to feed the world (in terms of weight only) for just one day. 4,891,000,000,000(4.8 trillion) pounds of food is roughly what it takes to feed the world for one year or 9,782,000 farmers growing the equivalent of what Earl grows in a year.

I am drawing attention to these numbers because if we are going to re-localize our food supplies as much as we possibly can, we have to think in terms of volume but also in terms of the infrastructure that is needed to do it. Eating out of one's backyard garden is one thing but having access to locally raised dairy and meat and grain is another.

How can we redevelop the local infrastructure?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Urban Farming Notes May 2, 2010

Here are some photos and notes from the agri-tour presented by Simby Agri Tours this past weekend. Enjoy!


Urban Micro Farm Tour
May 1, 2010

What We Do – We are a USDA registered farm raising small-scale livestock and produce for our own needs – sometimes referred to as subsistence farming – but also for sale through local farmers’ markets, wholesaling, and direct marketing. The FSA (Farm Service Agency) of the USDA as well as other agriculture groups see small and urban farms as key to making food supplies more regional again.

We currently raise several varieties of kale, chard, lettuce, spinach, onions, garlic, herbs, brassicas (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbages, etc.), some squash, tomatoes, wine grapes, peas, beans. We also raise Lion Head Dwarf rabbits (for sale as pets and for their manure), Mini-Nubian goats (for milk and manure), and several breeds of chickens and ducks (for eggs and manure).

How We Do It - We use intensive bio-dynamic, no-till, and Square Foot Gardening methods. All of our composted manure goes back into our gardens here and at two other sites.

Why – Urban farming initiatives are an effort to reintegrate basic food growing systems on a scale that almost anyone can use. By demonstrating the possibilities and experimenting with new techniques, smaller animals, plants, and systems we continue to learn and help others to “try on the shoes.” We say, “if the shoe fits, wear it.” No one has to replicate everything we are doing but you might find one piece of it that makes sense for you and try it on for size. We are also interested in seeing how much capacity we have in a small space so every year we try to do a little more. We also try to use the space we have as effectively as we can and to grow things here that are most suitable to the soil conditions, and the amount of light.

Estimates of how much uncooked food it takes to feed an average person range from 2 to 4.5 pounds per day. That adds up to between 730 lbs and 1,642 lbs per year. Much of that food does not come from local sources (within 100 miles). We believe that a great deal of that food can be grown or raised locally thereby saving money, giving us more control over what we eat, and reducing waste. Not only that but it is fun and challenging!

We also feel that it is important to challenge existing laws that reflect an anti-agriculture mentality. We have helped to change the ordinances in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor over the last few years and share our experience with people from all over the country. We are currently in court – on appeal – over the enforcement of an animal control ordinance and interpretation of the Michigan Right to Farm Act.

Where – Downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan, all over the country and the world. One of the restaurants that was nominated for the James Beard Award this year is a bar and grill in Birmingham, Alabama that serves fresh produce exclusively from an urban farm there.

Who – Family members, neighbors, and friends are involved. One adult daughter and three of her friends just moved in across the street so that they could be more directly involved with the farm. One of them manages the green house for example. Another neighbor manages the rabbits. Another comes over to work in exchange for vegetables.

When Did We Start – We moved to Ypsilanti 23 years ago bringing our bee hives with us from Ann Arbor where we had been living for 12 years. Ever since we moved here we have been re-claiming the soil and augmenting it with organic matter from our compost. We started raising farm animals here 3 years ago.

Some Online Resources:
http://www.squarefootgardening.com/, http://www.biodynamics.com/, http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/new_farm, http://www.cityfarmer.org/, http://ooooby.ning.com/, http://www.microecofarming.com/, http://urbanhomestead.org/, http://www.growinghope.net/, http://www.madonnahouse.org/restoration/2008/07/apostolic_farming_in_a_city.html, http://www.urbanchickens.net/

Monday, March 29, 2010

Urban Farming Notebook - March 29, 2010 - Poultry in Motion & Laughing Tree Farm Bakery

Poultry in Motion delivered 2 dozen assorted 10 day old layers to Laughing Tree Farm & Bakery near Hart, Michigan this weekend. We also helped them to build a new chicken coop which will soon be used by the chicks who are currently being housed in a brooder in the barn.

Hilde & Charlie (aka Laughing Tree Farm & Bakery)are quickly approaching the completion of the commercial bakery they have been working on for the last year. It is very exciting to watch the oven come together and to talk with them about the recipes they have been developing over the years for various types of sourdough breads. Hilde always seems to be working on a fresh batch of bread or is experimenting with some new variation or ingredient!

Look for the bakery to be online within the next few months!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Urban Farming Notebook - March 20, 2010 - Poultry in Motion

We had a great workshop on raising urban poultry here this morning. The peeps arrived in time yesterday - by mail - and the people who had placed their orders had the pick of the chicks.

I always get a kick out of picking up the box of chicks from the Post Office. The workers there are amused by hearing the peeps in the box.

Here is a copy of what the handout looked like.

A-maizin’ Chickens
Project Grow - Urban Chicken Keeping Workshop
March 20, 2010 10 AM ~ 12 PM
Instructor – Peter Thomason
Ypsilanti, Michigan
peterthomason@comcast.net 734-678-5584 mobile

Introductions, Overview, Questions

1. Caring for Baby Chicks – 1 to 4 weeks
• Heat, light, high-protein food, water, TLC, baby grit, ordering chicks

2. Young Pullets - 4 weeks to 21 weeks
• Heat, light, high-protein food, water, TLC, grit, food scraps, hay
• Feathering in

3. Pullets / Layers – 21 to 78 weeks
• Layer crumble, grit, scratch grains, dirt, bugs, TLC, food scraps, hay
• Basic biology
• Egg production

4. Seasonal Issues / Needs –
• moulting, protein requirements, diet, light, heat and cold
• egg eating, feather picking

5. Social Issues / Needs –
• space, roosting, pecking order, violence in the hennery
• MASH unit

6. Safety and Security –
• coops, enclosures
• predators
• laying boxes

7. Manure -
• Nutrient rich, high in Nitrogen
• Manure tea
• Mitigating odor
• When to clean the coop

8. The Chicken Life Cycle -
• Life expectancy 4 – 7 years depending on breed
• Egg laying drops off dramatically after first moult
• Natural causes of death

9. Additional Information –
• Websites: City Farmer, Urban Chickens, Backyard Chickens, Thomason Family Farm, etc.

Possible Breeds included in Starter Pack:
Isa-Brown, Rhode Island Reds, California Grey Leghorn, Barred Rock, Araucana, Buff Orpingtons, Black Sex-Links, Black Australorps, Golden Laced Wyandottes, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Light Brahmas