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.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Home Egg Delivery

Not long ago I was delivering some eggs to one of our regular customers in my wife's four door Honda sedan and the woman commented about how nice it was to have home delivery. This reminded me of two other egg-men I have known over the years, both of whom have interesting stories.

When we first moved to Ann Arbor in the mid-1970s we got connected somehow with Harold Sias, a long-time local farmer who lived west of town and used to come around with the trunk of his Ford full of eggs. We bought his eggs for years and were also invited out to his place occasionally to slaughter his hens who had stopped laying. I remember doing about a hundred one day and taking thirty or forty home to put in the freezer. I also bought a lamb from him one year for our Easter dinner which he dispatched with a 22 and I then butchered. He lived there with his wife Margaret, also from an old local farming family. She had grown up on a farm in northeast Ann Arbor which was eventually bought up by a developer but the family had retained ownership of the homestead itself. Harold and I went there one day to make some roof repairs and it struck me as very odd that this old farmhouse was surrounded by a modern subdivision.

Walking into the house was like stepping back a hundred years in time. The kitchen had a cistern in it that received all the water collected by the eave troughs via a series of pipes, and the old pie safe in the cellar still held mason jars of canned foods even though no one had lived there for years. Lots of other personal effects were still there; it was as if they all just left everything right where it was and moved out as soon as they got the check from the title company.

Another egg-man I knew was a gentleman farmer and his wife who lived outside of Asbury Park, New Jersey. My mother grew up in Asbury and, according to family legend, one day Henry Clay Folger II, heir to the Standard Oil fortune showed up peddling eggs from the back of his Rolls Royce and soon became a friend and benefactor. When I was still quite small, I was astonished when they came by my aunt's house and took me for a ride in what seemed like an impossibly luxurious automobile. How was it possible that my parents knew these people I asked?

How do you get your eggs?

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Need for a Local Farming Revolution

I get email from people around the country who are interested in urban and small farming questions. Here is one from a woman in northern Oakland County Michigan. I think that it shows quite clearly that there are more issues at stake here than just farming in the city for subsistence or for commercial reasons. The idea that you just need to move out "to the country" to do what we are doing just doesn't hold water anymore if we allow townships to do what is happening all over. Restrictions are being placed on land use everywhere which, in effect, pushes people to buy into the industrial farming system instead of raising food for themselves and their neighbors on small local farms:

Dear Peter,
I have been reading your story on the blog – your struggles with your neighbor (Daniel), and now about your recent citation to appear in court. I just want you to know that you are in our thoughts and prayers and we support what you are fighting for. We will continue to monitor your situation and share with others locally, what they too must be prepared to fight for.

Our township (in North Oakland County) is in the process of attempting to greatly reduce our ability to own chickens. They will at least allow (1) chicken per acre – isn’t that thoughtful of them? They unfortunately, passed the ordinance already (with no one’s awareness, of course) and it is due to go into effect the end of June (08) with a grandfather clause for those who already owned chickens exceeding this number. We just found out about this yesterday. The township planning meeting is this coming Tuesday, of which we will certainly be attending. We are at a loss as to why they have done this, since most of the township is a rural setting. There is a village within the township, but a very small one – at that. There are however, automotive executives (with much political clout) who have their country ‘estates’ here --- and my suspicious mind is a bit inflamed, I admit.

We wish you well in your battle. It would just seem as if there should be something they (your city) can do --- some sort of adjustment that can be made, to accommodate their need to satisfy the concern for '...if we let YOU do it, then we'll have to let OTHERS do it' dilemma. Perhaps some sort of local committee of volunteers can form to monitor any others' attempt at this, and to assure that GAAMP is satisfied, if so.

Economically - our society simply cannot continue with 'business as usual' ... but of course, the difficulty is in convincing others of that - isn't it? If there are any shreds of wisdom that you can toss our way – please do so. Thank you for your vigilance, and God bless…

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Chickens in Ann Arbor

Congratulations to Steve K and the City of Ann Arbor for approving their new ordinance. I hope things go well. Ironically, the same day the ordinance was approved in Ann Arbor I got a citation to appear in court within ten days regarding our urban farm flock of 44 chickens and our herd of 6 dairy goats.

While doing some research recently, I found this quintessentially American quote attributed to the late urban legend Benchicken Franklin former president of the FRA:

"They can take away my chickens and goats when they can pry them out of my dead, cold fingers."

It was allegedly spoken as he was addressing a convention of the FRA while holding a chicken above his head and was met with wild cheers from his fellow members.