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.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Small is Beautiful

Ever since I first became aware of E.F. Schumacher and his proposition that bigger is not always better and that economics should be about what is good for people, I have had it in my mind that I wanted to explore ways for making my home economy a producing rather than a consuming one. Advances in technology have made it possible for many to work from home these days, like my daughter Kristen who lives in Brooklyn, New York and is a network administrator for The Young Presidents Organization. She can be home, most of the time, taking care of her young children and still work 30 hours a week scheduling and coordinating events for this 20,000 member group that provides professional and personal support services to business executives around the world. Her office is at home and she has found a way to create an income for herself without ever having to leave - except digitally. Incredible. This, to me, represents the best of both worlds. She is taking advantage of wonderful advances for women in the workplace and able to be a stay-at-home mom.

Though I worked out of the home for most of my career, either for others or for myself, and Rebecca was the at-home parent, changes over the last decade brought us to the point where, I am now at-home more than she is. Her work as a nurse-gerontologist at a local hospital provides the bulk of our income and our benefits while I work here at our micro-farm. I do teach part-time at nearby Eastern Michigan University and do construction consulting. When it is available I also do carpentry and have recently started to build coffins on request. However, the greatest joy for both of us is the time we spend growing and raising our own food with the help of our children and grandchildren. Somehow we have been able to fit a lot into a small space - 1/10th of an acre - without it being crowded. We currently have 90 animals here in various stages of development and few seem to notice or to be aware of it.

As in an old English farm basement, where poultry and livestock were kept in a symbiotic relationship with humans, we have been raising 70 chicks until they are ready for the outdoors. Existing urban infrastructure is being used, in our case, the old coal room of our 116 year-old Victorian home with its sloped floor provides a wonderful brood chamber. The old coal chute opening in the stone basement wall, unopened for decades until a week ago, is now fitted with an exhaust fan to keep the space well ventilated. Pine wood shavings are used for litter because they like them, they are easy to use and cheap, they are very absorbent and they almost completly mitigate any odor. That is what we use in our outdoor hennery as well. Early concerns about chicken smells from neighbors and other city folk were completely laid to rest by this tried and true manure management practice. We provided the chicks with warming lamps during the first couple of weeks and now they have grow lights instead so that they get the full range of light that they need until they go outside in the Spring.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Revolutionary Farming

Our son-in-law Charlie calls it a revolution, our grandchildren laugh and squeal, some of our children think we have too much time on our hands. We just call it fun. The Inevitable Package arrived Monday of last week. It was bound to happen when we took the plunge last year and ordered the first twelve hens for our 1/10th acre micro-farm in downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan. Others had been asking us for some time if we would help them to get set up with their own urban henneries so, when the package arrived it was too late to turn back. The wheel was moving and the momentum could not be stopped.

For those of you who do not know, it may come as a surprise that chickens are rountinely shipped from hatcheries by US Mail as baby chicks. They are literally hatched, boxed, and shipped the same morning, and will not need food or water for 48 hours. Put into specially made containers, they stay warm, safe and comfortable. When they arrive at your post office an agent calls to tell you to come and to get them. The first hens we got last year were "feathered-in" by friends on their farm so we did not get to watch them during the first, month long - and very funny - stage of life.

The shipping box is divided up into four quarters, each of which holds approximately twenty-five chicks. As you can see in the picture, three of the four quarters are full. These beautiful chicks are headed for new homes in and around Ypsilanti where they will be providing home-grown food for their owners for years to come.