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.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Urban Farming Notebook - Farming and Land Conservation - February 19, 2010

Made a visit to the Southeast Michigan Land Conservancy headquarters in Superior Twp yesterday and talked with the staff there about the process of helping local small farmers change from conventional growing methods to sustainable agriculture. http://www.smlcland.org/properties_washtenaw.php

This seems to fit within their statement of purpose even though most often we think about land conservancy efforts being focused on creating / preserving green space and thwarting reckless development.

If we are going to safeguard our local food supply and the health of local agriculture there is much that needs to be done to help farmers move to more sustainable practices. It is a big undertaking and will take time but can be done.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Urban Farming - Increasing Your Capacity While Improving Your Soil - February 18, 2010

An exciting year lies ahead as the urban farming movement gathers momentum. It is astonishing to see how many people are getting on board with the idea that we can grow our own food locally and inexpensively.

This year we will be adding several varieties of Michigan mushrooms to our growing space. We will continue to focus on leaf vegetables that do well in the high nitrogen soil we make with our animal manures.

We will also be into year three of growing a limited number of wine grapes. Last year they were surrounded by garlic and had the most interesting and complex flavor I have ever tasted.

The challenge that I would like to extend to all urban farmers is to grow as much as you possibly can - in a healthy way of course - in a small space. This idea of increasing the capacity of a small space is especially important and challenges us to utilize our resources prudently and efficiently.

Last year, when I temporarily had 45 chickens, my daughter Aubrey laughingly accused me of running "an urban micro-eco cafo" (confined animal feeding operation). We eventually sold most of the chickens (we only have 8 at present) to people starting their own urban henneries.

The idea is not to cram more into a space than is sustainable but to maximize the capacity. I say this because so much of agriculture is wasteful and creates such a large carbon footprint. Good stewardship requires doing things well and with care.

Square foot, bio-dynamic, no-till, and other planting methods can help to maximize the yield of a small area while improving the health of the soil and protecting its structure.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Winter 2010 - A Time to Mourn

Margot Adler, a long time friend and correspondent at NPR NYC, lost her husband John this week to cancer. John was the eldest son of my parent's best friends when we lived in Baltimore in the late 1950s and 60s. John's parents died tragically in a plane crash and his siblings came to stay with us for a while until they could resettle with family members.

Margot has faithfully covered developments in urban agriculture for many years, see for example http://www.cityfarmer.org/nydestroy.html and I am grateful for her reporting.

Our condolences go out to Margot and her son Alexander during this difficult time of loss.