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.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Spring Chickens

Well, we just finished ordering another 25 laying hens (pullets) to help us to keep up with the growing demand for our eggs. They will arrive next week and, if all goes well, they will start laying in about 18 weeks. We also ordered 25 broilers, these are fast growing male meat chickens (cockerels) who are destined for the table. We are staying with the ISA Brown(French) laying hens because we have had such a good experience with them this year.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Cold Weather!

Like any other farmers we are concerned about our livestock when the temperatures drop near zero. Since our sheds are near our house it is not hard to check on the animals several times a day, to give them warm water, or to make sure they are not too cold. Ss far we have done well over the last few days though we do have a heater on in the rabbitry. The goats don't seem to mind it too much and still sleep by the open door. The chickens always have something to say when you go to see them, they are very opininated and appreciate it if you stop to listen for a while. Even Murphy, our Maine Coon cat who lives outside has just turned into a big fur ball.

Still trying to track down the local chicken hatchery Aubrey told me about. We get more requests for eggs every day.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Spring 2008 Livestock

Aubrey (our 22 year old cheesemaker, farmhand, daughter) told me today that some of you are asking when the goats are due. Based on the information from our breeder Marilyn, we believe they will both be kidding at the end of March. This breed or, hybrid rather, known as Mini-Nubians, will frequently have 2 to 5 kids per birth. We intend to keep all of the goats for now. We wil castrate the males (then they will be called wethers) and raise them for meat (commonly called chevon). We would like to keep two of the wethers and train them to pull our goat cart. If there is a particularly promising looking male we may keep him intact for stud services. The does will become part of our dairy herd and be bred in the Fall.

We have also bred two of the rabbit does and plan to breed the third one in two weeks. The due dates are pretty much 31 days from conception. Look for birth announcements about the second week of February.

For those of you interested in chickens for your urban hennery, we will be making an order soon. We plan to increase the size of our flock to 3 dozen since things have gone so well and the demand for eggs is much greater than our present supply.

If you are ready to start your own coop, for a modest fee we can help you to get set up and operational with as many chicks as you want. Call or email Peter for information: 734-482-2438 or peterthomason@comcast.net

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Urban Farming in 2008

The beginning of a new year is always an exciting time for those of us who love to grow things. We lie awake at night and use all of our spare time thinking and talking about what we learned the previous season, what we are going to do differently this year, what crops we will rotate or new livestock we will acquire. For people like us who live on urban micro eco farms there is the additional challenge of trying to figure out how to use our limited space as efficiently and productively as possible. Over the next few weeks we will share some of our thoughts on this as well as ideas that we have collected from others. Yesterday we bred two of our Lion's Head does with our two bucks for the first time. We expect to have babies in 31 days - more or less. Our two goats are pregnant and due at the end of March. We're getting ready to order more chick-hens and broiler-chicks. We're mapping out what we will be planting in our existing vegetable beds and what will go into the new ones. We are also planning to go vertical with vining plants this year. We'll keep you posted!!