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, May 8, 2010

Urban Farming Notes May 8, 2010 - Local Food Production Infrastructure

Not surprisingly, as food production came to rely on the availability of cheap fuel and energy for importing and transportation, local processing infrastructure gradually disappeared.

My friend Earl, from whom I buy alfalfa, grows 500,000 pounds of grains on about 200 acres near Saline, Michigan. He has to truck all of it, 30,000 lbs at a time to Toledo, Ohio, an hour away, where there is a grain elevator and a mill. He used to be able to take it to an elevator in Bridgewater, a mile and a half away. He has no idea where his soybeans, oats, corn, or wheat go from there, For all he knows they are turned into animal feed, or shipped to Russia, or bought by the U.S. Government, rot in a warehouse or processed elsewhere and eventually shipped back to stores in Michigan.

In terms of sheer raw food weight, what he grows in one year would only meet the needs of the population of Washtenaw County (350,000 souls) for less than a day. This is based on my estimate that it takes about 2 lbs of raw food per day to feed the average American. The USDA estimate is much higher - 4.5 pounds - which may be right given the fact that 1 in 4 people in America is considered obese. Try to visualize 700,000 pounds of food being consumed per day and that is just our county!

If you take 2 lbs as an average and there are roughly 307,000,000 people in the U.S. and 6,700,000,000 in the world, that adds up to 614,000,000 pounds of food consumed in the U.S per day and 13,400,000,000 pounds of food (6,700,000 tons) consumed in the world per day - more or less. (More likely, there is more food consumed per capita in the U.S. and Europe than elsewhere in the world.) In other words, what Earl and 26,800 other farmers his size produce in one year would be able to feed the world (in terms of weight only) for just one day. 4,891,000,000,000(4.8 trillion) pounds of food is roughly what it takes to feed the world for one year or 9,782,000 farmers growing the equivalent of what Earl grows in a year.

I am drawing attention to these numbers because if we are going to re-localize our food supplies as much as we possibly can, we have to think in terms of volume but also in terms of the infrastructure that is needed to do it. Eating out of one's backyard garden is one thing but having access to locally raised dairy and meat and grain is another.

How can we redevelop the local infrastructure?


  1. apparently meat is not as important as the rest ~ "In 2007 a deluge of new scientific studies from a wide variety of institutions indicate that in comparison to genetically modified (GM) crops, organic agriculture can better feed the world, reduce global warming, provide greater nutrition, and boost the economy. Digesting new research on the topic, the United Nations announced that organic agriculture is the best way to feed the world and help stabilize the climate" source? Manataka American Indian Council®

  2. Thanks for the comment Anonymous. There are so many ways that this is true, so many ways we can improve on the conventional way we are doing things.

    Earl, the farmer I referred to above, says, "my family has been farming here for two hundred years and we got hoodwinked. We got sold a bill of goods by every fertilizer salesman coming down the road. I want to change over to sustainable growing methods but I don't know where to begin."

    It's not easy transitioning to organic or sustainable methods but more and more small farmers are thinking about it. My feeling is that with more widespread practice, the price of organic agriculture will drop, making it more competitive.

  3. On your beef question: don't be afraid to pay more (10-20%) for your beef at a small butcher shop who does NOT buy wholesale beef. To offset the cost, we just eat 10-20% less and find satisfaction in supporting local beef producers and butchers rather than in a stuffed belly!