Northern Advocate Column

Chickens are awesome

heritage-birds25 July 2015

I recently took a walk with my kids down the railway track that runs behind George Street in Hikurangi. What we noticed, nosing into backyards, was how many people had chickens. We had already joined this new urban trend, and we’re completely sold: chickens are awesome.

We got our three chicks from the Kamo Pet Shop for my daughter’s 10th birthday. They were given the lady-like names of Maurice, Rocky and Onkie-mo. After three months they were outside and laying everyday in the coop. We were eating eggs for breakfast, with stir-fried vegetables for lunch, and for dinner, mostly frittatas and quiches. They’re definitely fresher, even more so than free range eggs from the supermarket. The first thing we appreciated was how well they held together when poached.

But it’s not just those lovely packages of protein delivered daily that makes chickens awesome. There’s the chicken poo. I scoop it up from the convenient piles the make in the coop and put it in our compost bin. The kids are sometimes given the job of scooping chicken poo off the front lawn, but mostly it just washes into the soil with rain, fertilising my fruit and nut treeslike how nature intended.

It doesn’t stop there, however, because the chickens are doing a great job of keeping the edges along the fenceline clear, as well as generally being effective lawnmowers. They’re scratching about all day looking for insects and worms, and I’m guessing seeds, which means I don’t do as much weeding as I used too. I’ve read that they’ll scratch out moth larvae at the roots of fruit trees. I’m hoping this is true.

They’re fun to watch. One of the delights of being a chicken must be a dirt bath in the sun. Afterwards I’ve seen them lying down with their legs stretched out.

There’s something about the way they move around the lawn that’s predatory. Of course birds are descended from dinosaurs. If you’ve ever watched those BBC programmes on dinosaurs and you’ve seen a chicken run (surprisingly fast) then you’ll instantly see the connection to a pack of angry raptors. Those big legs get moving, like they’re cycling an invisible bike, and the head goes right forward for balance. It’s quite a transformation from your normal chicken pose.

The kids each have their favourites who submit to being cuddled. Onkie-mo is the most adventurous. She’s also the one who’s had “issues”, having gone broody a couple of times. The cure: solitary confinement away from the coop for 4 or 5 days.

While they fend for themselves over a roughly100 square metre area, we get chicken feed from the Ringrose Stockfood Factory, just up the road in Hikurangi. And they get leftovers: rice, cereal, stale bread, apple cores. Some people might be horrified, but we often put our plates and pans directly out onto the grass, they do a great pre-rinse.

There’s enough room on your average house section for a few chickens. It seems to me they’re an essential component in trying to live sustainably and taking responsibility for producing more of our own food. A few generations ago in New Zealand many families with land would have had chickens, going by the number of them in backyards in Hikurangi, that may well be the case again.


To the Greek people, Kalí tíhi and náse kalá!

Cassidy-Greece-120011 July 2015

I’d love to be in Greece right now. Why? Because the Greek people are engaged in a real political debate over the future of their country. It’s a debate I would love to see occur in this country at the same level of intensity.

Yes, the Greek people are going through some pain right now. Over 25% of the workforce is unemployed, the welfare state is in tatters, and many people risk losing their savings. But there’s also a sense of hope and empowerment, which could be seen in the jubilance ― particularly amongst young people ― that accompanied the “no vote” to austerity.

Something that’s been largely missing from the coverage here is what the majority of Greek people were actually voting against. The austerity measures being forced on Greece as part of the repayment of its debt to European bankers were extreme.

They included more cuts to pensions and benefits, higher taxes, slashing of public sector wages, but most crucially the wholesale privatisation of airports, harbours, railways, water and power companies, motorways, post offices, thermal springs, seaside land and cultural treasures. Greece was to be sold to international corporates at bargain basement prices. What future did this represent?

No wonder for many Greeks the better alternative, as tough as it might be, is to default on the national debt and try to rebuild the economy on their own terms. And this is where something else going on in Greece at the moment is instilling confidence.

Since the economic crisis began in 2009 there’s been an explosion across Greece of democratic and cooperative enterprises that have gone a long way to creating a parallel economy.

Food cooperatives have been set-up bypassing supermarket chains, doctors and other health professionals have established free health clinics, neighbourhoods have founded social kitchens where people pool their food and eat together. The Internet is being used to coordinate bartering and sharing of private and community resources. There’s even a trend towards Greeks offering up their homes for tourist accommodation in exchange for Euro dollars, bypassing the often foreign owned hotels.

These practical attempts to do what simply needs to be done have their base in a new ethos that’s about self-sufficiency, sustainability, local economies and community democracy.

Christos Ciovanopoulos from Solidarity for All, one of the many citizen networks now operating in Greece, says the movement is “politics from the bottom up, that starts with real people’s needs. It’s a practical critique of the empty, top-down, representational politics our traditional parties practice. It’s a kind of whole new model, actually. And it’s working.”

Tonia Katerini, an unemployed architect, who has helped set up a food cooperative in Athens, says all these new initiatives “are about people taking responsibility for their lives, putting their skills to use, becoming productive again.”

In many ways what’s happening in Greece, both the good and the bad, is the future. The debt fueled unfettered exploitation of people and planet has to end sometime. At least the Greek people are waking up to reality and realising the benefits of communities doing things for themselves in a sustainable and democratic manner. It’s a model that holds lessons for the rest of the world.

For that reason I wish the Greek people lots of luck and encouragement. Kalí tíhi and náse kalá!