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.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ypsilanti City Council Approves Backyard Henneries

After a three year effort by local food and farming advocates, on July 21, 2009, the Ypsilanti City Council, in a unanimous 5 - 0 vote, approved the keeping of hens in urban backyards. For more details visit http://ypsiciti.com/section/News/-article-1013.html

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mini-Nubian Breeding bucks for sale

We currently have three (3) - 2 month old bucklings for sale. These Mini-Nubians come from a good line of milkers out of our breeder and their grand-sire is well known. Contact Peter at 734-482-2438 or peterthomason@comcast.net for prices and more information.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Free Registration to Indiedibles

Right now you can register for free with Indiedibles at http://www.indiedibles.com/ and watch cool videos about urban farming. In the "How To" section there are sessions on cold frames and greenhouse plant starting by us. In the "Stimulus Package" there is an introduction to our family and a discussion about what we are trying to do with cooperative urban agriculture. There will be more pieces done throughout the year, I hope you enjoy them and tell your friends!

Saturday, May 2, 2009

May 2009 - The Vision Expands

I am terribly behind posting new photos and information. Between the normal stuff of daily life with a large family, Becky's and my other jobs, trying to expand our growing capacity, transplanting 10,000 vegetable starts, preparing for goats to be born, and trying to figure out how to make room for 60 rabbits, I just have not gotten to it...BUT I WILL KEEP TRYING!!

This year, our daughter Aubrey has taken on the role of farm manager. She brings a lot of passion to the job as well as a wealth of wisdom and experience that are unusual for a 24- year old. She has traveled the world, spent a summer internship at Spannochia http://www.spannocchia.org/ , been involved in the renaissance of artisinal cheese making in the U.S. , and worked for Zingerman's http://www.zingermans.com/ for 7 years. She will be running our downtown farm market stand selling our produce and cheeses that she makes under the Zingerman's brand name. We are very excited to have her on board! She joins Rebecca, me, and Jil as the other part-time staff and has already helped plant more stuff tan we have ever had in the ground before by this date.

Also, we are very excited to publish this link to indiedibles http://www.indiedibles.com/ a venture headed up by our friend Michael Peters to promote and to support urban micro farming. For only $5 a month, you can get access to cool videos that provide practical advice on a whole host of topics. Their first visit here was in February and they will be documenting our work throughout the year. One of the things that will be explained in the shows is our vision of urban micro eco-farming as a cooperative community enterprise for utilizing fallow land, increasing our growing capacity, and restoring fertility to our local soil. Follow the link and subscribe!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grass-fed West Michigan Beef & Downtown Farmers Market

Be sure to check out the excellent grass-fed West Michigan beef we will start supplying to our beloved Ypsilanti Food Co-op beginning this week. The animals are lovingly raised near Hesperia (North of Muskegon) by our dear friends Bill and Patrice Bobier on their two-hundred acre farm.

One of the reasons grass-fed beef is more expensive is that the animals are not fattened in crowded, unhealthy feed lots with GMO corn. Grass-fed animals are healthier but they are leaner and smaller with a hanging weight per side of around 250 pounds as opposed to their much heavier conventionally-raised counterparts. Grass and forage is the main stay of their diet, as it is naturally for cattle. We think the meat has a better taste and consistency from this more humane and healthier way of raising them. Though it does cost more we think it is worth it - both for them and for us - so we eat less of it and use it more like a protein condiment! Try it, we think you will like it too. There will be ground beef, steaks, roasts, stew meat and even soup bones if you need them. The supply is limited so get it while it lasts.

We are also looking forward to the opening of the Downtown Ypsilanti Farmers Market in May. We will again have a stand there and be selling our fresh vegetables and Zingerman's locally made cheeses. By early May we will have our own locally grown greens for sale. See you there!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Early April 2009

Wow, I just noticed that it has been nearly a month since my last post. We have been busy here and life has a way of getting in the way of blogging - so to speak. Rebecca has been off work since February on a medical leave so that has been a big concern. She has gotten some good care though and seems to be improving, plans to be back to work this month. She and Jil are making progress on the rabbit business, sales are up, especially through a local pet store, Pet City, owned by our friends Annette and Stuart Collins. We have some really cool Lionhead rabbits...

A big event this Spring was the coming of the greenhouse courtesy of Amanda Edmonds and Growing Hope. We got all of our March starts seeded with the help of a class of 1st and 2nd graders who have come to learn and to help for the last two weeks. Collectively they planted over 1200 seeds! We now have 50 or more flats and troughs going with 3000 - 4000 seeds started.

Other news is that we are the subject of a yearlong documentary / instructional film series being produced by Michael Peters of indiedibles http://indiedibles.com/ . One of the cool things they are doing is advocating for urban farming while providing "how to" segments on everything from building cold frames to how to plant really small seeds and a bunch of things in between. I will let you know when the first piece is complete and available for viewing, it will be very soon, we have already previewed the final rough draft.

What else? Our daughter Aubrey, a cheesemaker for Zingermans and a member of the board of directors of Growing Hope has agreed to take on the role of farm manager for the Thomason Family Farm. She is helping us to take the urban farming venture to the next level of growing enough fresh and storage crops for our 5 households. By utilizing unused urban yards (unused in the sense that they are just growing grass lawns) we expect to have about 1/4 of an acre or more under tillage this year. What we don't need for ourselves we will be selling through our co-op, the Ypsilanti Food Co-op, or the downtown farmers' market in the KeyBank parking lot. From our stand at the market we plan to be selling our veggies, Zingermans cheeses, and some other items so look for us there! It looks like it will be a fun season.

Let's see, we also thinned out our flock of hens, down from 37 to 24 this week. We decided that was a number we were comfortable with so we donated the extra pullets to Dawn Farm http://www.dawnfarm.org/index.html. Manager Rick Weirich graciously took them in to help their cause.

I will try to get some photos posted soon, way behind on that. Goat kids due in a few weeks, hope to get video of that for you and write more about our collective / cooperative approach to growing more food in an urban setting and restoring fertility to the soil.

More soon!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Appeal Update

As of this moment, we are actively pursuing the appeals process of our case "The People of the City of Ypsilanti v. Thomason" in which we are challenging the legality of the existing animal control ordinance. Ironically, I really think that by and large, "the People" are not opposed to what we are doing. What the process entails right now is a lot of legal maneuvering and setting of court dates for hearings, discussions, etc. We are deeply grateful to Professor David Santacroce and his students at the U of M Law Clinic for their help and their passion for winning our case. I encourage you to follow this discussion of civic life, you can read it at a local blog hosted by Mark Maynard http://markmaynard.com/?tag=urban-chickens .

Whatever the eventual outcome of the case, the good news is that there has been a groudswell of interest in urban agriculture over the last three years and many city residents now want to have a voice in shaping the policy. We are strongly encouraging Mayor Paul Schreiber to listen to knowedgable citizens and not to simply rely on the input of city staff and attorneys in formulating a new ordinance. Whether that happens through an ad hoc citizens' committee or a more formal Urban Agriculture Commission remains to be seen. Either way, it is important that the mayor and the council listen to what people are saying about the importance of food security and the place of agriculture in urban life. If you want to send him your thoughts he can be reached at Mayor@cityofypsilanti.com , his name is Paul Schreiber. To his credit, Mayor Schreiber has asked the city staff to look into writing a modified ordinance that would allow chicken raising and beekeeping - so far. We would like it to be even more inclusive but an email thanking him for being open to this and encouraging the formation of a citizens' advisory group would be in order, I think.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

City Council Meeting on Tueday Feb 17th, 2009

No real surprises at the meeting last night but there was clearly a lot of support. The city council approved the first pass on the amendment to the existing animal control ordinance, a provision that simply incorporates legal language deferring to the protections granted by the Michigan Right to Farm Act. There was also extensive discussion and a great presentation by our friend Amanda Edmonds on the virtues of urban farming.

In brief, if our appeal is successful the current ordinance will be nullified and any new one that in any way tries to limit the protections of the RTFA will have to have the permission of the Michigan Commission of Agriculture as stated in the law. The good news is that we have come a long way in the three years since we first tried to amend the ordinance. There is tremendous support for what we are doing and willingness on the part of council (if somewhat reluctantly) to consider the whole issue - a little fire under the feet never hurts now does it? The main reason for filing an appeal now (instead of waiting until Judge Tabbey renders a final decision in my case) is simply that we believe that his interpretation of the RTFA is wrong and must be challenged. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Our Decision to Appeal Ypsilanti v Thomason Ruling

I met with our attorneys from the U of M Law Clinic yesterday, and was very pleased to find out that they are going to represent us in our appeal of Judge Tabbey's ruling on our challenge of the Ypsilanti City Animal Control Ordinance. We believe that there are some really questionable interpretations of languauge and the law in his ruling and continue to be puzzled as to how the city attorney knew about the outcome weeks before it was made public. At that time, he (the city attorney) notified the city council that "the city had prevailed" in the case, and used it as an occasion for introducing an amendment to the ordinance that would add some Right to Farm Act language into it that appears to give deference to state law though it really fails to clarify anything. The first public hearing of the proposed amendment is this Tuesday and will include a presentation on urban agriculture by our dear friend Amanda Edmonds of Growing Hope and me. Members of the public will also have a chance to speak then and at the second public hearing. We were never granted these public hearings when we attempted to amend the ordinance three years ago - even though we followed the city's rules for doing it - but were denied that kind of due process by then mayor Cheryl Farmer.

Anyway, the city will most likely proceed with its proposed amendment, though I do not know for sure, even with litigation pending. If we win on appeal, the ordinance will be nullified since it will be shown to have been enacted contrary to the requirements of the Right to Farm Act. If this happens, the slate is, in effect wiped clean, and we can truly have a new community-wide discussion of the place of agriculture - of all kinds - in our city. This is very exciting not just because I, and many others, love our urban micro farm, but because it represents a large step forward in creating a sustainable and healthy future. In the meantime, if the city proceeds with trying to amend the existing ordinance, I encourage you to attend the city council meeting Tuesday night and voice your support for urban farming!

By the way, a big thank you to the more than three hundred visitors to this blogsite last week. We appreciate your stopping by and your interest in what we are doing!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Latest From the Ann Arbor News

Here is a link to the latest news article. Please fill out the survey if you haven't done it already. On another note we have been approached by an independent film production company that wants to document our urban farming efforts through the seasons. They have asked if we would be willing to be the subject of their first podcast on March 1st and want to come next week to start filming.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Court Ruling on Ypsilanti v. Thomason

As you may know by now, Judge Tabbey's opinion on our motion to dismiss our case came down on the side of the existing Ypsilanti ordinance. You can read the whole thing here on this blogsite if you want by going to https://share.acrobat.com/adc/adc.do?app=org and clicking on the document called, "Decision on Motion to Dismiss." We think his interpretation of several key issues is questionable and are weighing the value of an appeal. However, if we can simply get the city engaged in a community-wide discussion of the value of urban farming and sustainable local agriculture there will be no real need for an appeal. The link to a survey by Growing Hope below will help to gather information and to gauge support for a better public policy. Please take the survey and get as many others to take it as you can. I will keep you posted on developments but there is a city council meeting currently scheduled for Feb 17th during which the city attorney is planning to introduce an amendment to the animal control ordinance which will incorporate some language deferring to the Right to Farm Act protections. Unfortunately it still leaves many things vague and does not protect what we are already doing. There is need for much community discussion and the support of those who believe in urban agriculture. There may be need for a write in campaign, either by email or postcard; I will keep you posted!


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Mistake by Ypsilanti city Attorney Causes Alarm

Despite reports by the Ypsilanti City attorney's office that our case, Ypsilanti v. Thomason had been decided and that the city had prevailed, NO decision has been rendered and the District Court Judge has NOT published an opinion. How this mistake happened is baffling, to say the least, especially since the attorney's office even circulated it as fact to the city manager and the mayor. They even went so far as to write a proposed amendment to the existing animal control ordinance and to schedule it for council review on February 17th. Huh?