The renegade chicken farmer

There have been a lot of good food books published in the last two years but few as smart and funny and just plain useful as gardening guru Lorraine Johnson’s new City Farmer: Adventures in Urban Food Growing.

Launching today at The Stop’s Green Barn at Christie and St. Clair in Toronto, City Farmer tracks the growing urban agriculture movement—from school grounds to guerilla gardens to fruit gleaners and backyard chicken farmers. It weaves together her own stories (including rooftop gardening and raising 3 hens she calls “The Girls” or Hermione, Nog and Roo, in her downtown Toronto backyard) with those from others on the front lines of urban farming across North America.

The book opens with her discovery that her 10-year-old nephew had never before encountered a fresh pea and offers several stories about the transformative power of growing food at urban schools, but I think my favourite chapter is the one on acquiring three chickens just as she’s ending a three-decade long relationship. Called “What the cluck?” it’s sweet and hilarious (“Grief quickly gives way to slapstick when you’ve got backyard chickens,” she writes) and I’m sure I’m not the only reader inspired to consider building my own coop!

Unlike most other major North American cities, however, it’s against the law in Toronto to raise chickens in your backyard. Lorraine makes the case that “chickens are, if anything, a civilizing influence.” But having been the grateful and delighted beneficiary of one of ‘The Girls'” souffles (light and fluffy, rich and delicious), I would argue the heavenly taste of fresh eggs is an equally powerful reason to change the antiquated law. It would be one seriously taste-bud challenged politician who could eat one of Hermione, Nog or Roo’s eggs and continue to believe raising chickens in your Toronto backyard is something only for renegades.

City Farmer is available at bookstores now. You can also follow Lorraine’s blog Edible City or check out the Q&A with her in The Globe for more.

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