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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Condolences to Ann Arbor Animal Lovers and Urban Farmers

My condolences go out to Steve Kunselman and others in Ann Arbor. They might do well to follow the lead of Ypsilantians in this case. AA city council has a history of believing it has authority over the exercise of various civil liberties and paying a steep price for its ill-considered actions.

I was amazed that the word "indulge" was used by one councilperson to describe their posture towards those who want to raise their own food. They spoke as if the council, which is of course concerned with MUCH more important things, was deigning to spend its VERY important time allowing silly citizens to bother IT with an issue of so little importance or consequence.

The last time I am aware of that the AA council dealt with an issue of civil liberties in that way it got smacked with about $30,000 in damages by the Federal District Court in Detroit. Something worth remembering and considering. The city attorney was completely humiliated by the Judge for even trying to defend the city's actions.

My suggestion to anyone wanting to raise their own food is: "just do it, and do it really well."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Treats for Teats

Well the milking of the two dams has begun in earnest. The four kids born Easter weekend are now four-plus weeks old. We have cauterized horn buds twice and begun the castration process of the one buckling in our herd. The horn disbudding began when they were a week old using a modified soldering iron that reaches 950 degrees F and is used to literally burn down the emerging horns. We did it again this week to stop some scurs from growing by removing the tip from the soldering iron which I had ground flat, and thereby creating a tube about 1/2 inch in diameter that could be placed around the horn bud and make a circular burn. While we were doing this a number of the scabs that had formed over the buds from the first burning fell off. For the most part it looks like we have been successful with this method.

The castrating of the buckling, who will either become dinner or a cart-pulling wether (a castrated goat) began with placing a very substantial but small band around his endowment with a special tool made for this process. All of the equipment cost less than $20 and was readily available at our local farm supply store. Over the next month or two, because the circulation has been cut off, I'm told that it will dry up and fall off. We'll see. We chose this method at the recommendation of our breeder who felt that because of the relatively low cost and not being invasive it was the way to get the most bang for your buck, so to speak.

Treats for teats is the motto I have developed for the symbiotic relationship we have with our lactating does. I tell them, "If you want a treat in your bowl on the milking stand then it is your job to give me some milk." It's a trade-off. After three days Buckwheat (in the photo), our yearling doe, is jumping right up when I open the gate for her. Her mother, Dancer, is getting there too but more slowly. So far the milking is going slowly but they are getting used to me and I to them. I have high hopes since our breeder thinks we will eventually be getting about a 1/2 gallon a day out of the two of them.

Monday, April 7, 2008

City Dwellers Already Have the Right to Raise their own Food

Tonight the city of Ann Arbor will vote on whether or not to change their animal control ordinance to allow chickens. For my response to this initiative follow the link to the article in today's Ann Arbor News.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Romping Baby Goats

I haven't quite mastered how to embed a video in the blog but if you follow this link you'll see one of the cutest sites on God's green earth.


One is a slideshow the other is a video.