Agriculture | Education

Fair and Fowl

Urban Livestock Expo shines a spotlight on Chicago’s backyard livestock

A trio of children inspect one of Lidia Andronic's chicks. (Benjamin Unger)

The animals at the fifth annual Urban Livestock Expo, unlike their wilder counterparts, are indifferent to the fact that it’s an unusually warm and sun-drenched winter day. They have been convened in the ventilated lobby of the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences (CHSAS) by local nonprofit Advocates for Urban Agriculture for an event intended to showcase the urban livestock community and to educate would-be urban farmers. Many of the presenters at last Saturday’s event are on double duty, discussing their livelihoods with attendees before dashing into classrooms to teach workshops.

Home to Roost

When Kristen Hollinden began raising chickens in 2012, she enlisted Jennifer Murtoff, a “chicken consultant” and owner of Home to Roost, to inspect her coop. Hollinden has a photo album on her table full of pictures of her children and the chickens interacting.

“We have a family of five and we have three boys, and we wanted to have fresh eggs in our backyard and show our kids where our food source comes from,” she says. “So, having chickens, they see [that] eggs come from chickens and not just [from] on the shelf in the supermarket…. It’s given our family a greater connectedness with our food and our food source, and…a really good time with the chickens along the way.”

As she speaks, her son comes up and hugs her hip.

“The chickens are just a funny set of animals and pets, so they’re full of character and full of drama. My kids love them. They love to play with them and hold them and dig for worms for the chickens.”

Kristen Hollinden's sons look in on a group of chicks huddling below a heat lamp. (Benjamin Unger)

Kristen Hollinden’s sons look in on a group of chicks huddling below a heat lamp. (Benjamin Unger)

Nature’s Little Recyclers

Ed Hubbard introduces himself to an attendee as “the worm guy,” recognizing the unusual nature of his profession.

“When I was a kid, my dad said, ‘Get a job.’ There was no jobs around. So I got this book from the library, Selling Worms for Fun and Profit. I raised worms for two years, sold them from North Avenue Beach to Montrose Harbor.”

Though he gave up selling worms in high school, when Hubbard left his job as a software CEO three years ago, he once again began selling worms, this time out of concern for the environment. His business’s worms make compost from waste, which he sells as fertilizer.

“I’m a big believer in Buckminster [Fuller]. [He] said [that] you cannot replace a system unless you build a better system. So certainly I can say landfills are terrible all day long. But if I don’t have something better? And then you’re like ‘Okay. Then what are you gonna do?’…So earthworms are much better.”

Benjamin Unger

Benjamin Unger

Windy City Coop Tours

Jenny Addison’s coop is one of many stops along the annual Windy City Coop Tour. She’s seen a variety of people come through her yard: established coop-owners who wanted to make connections, community gardeners who were considering buying a coop, elementary school teachers interested in getting coops for their classrooms, and families who wanted to explore the possibilities of urban livestock, as well as the merely curious.

“And everybody was from all walks of life,” she says. “We had some more earthy, crunchy people; we had some millennials come through; we had an older couple that had chickens for twenty-eight years. So it’s various kinds of people coming through the yard.”

Listen to Weekly reporter Juan Caicedo discuss this story on an episode of Lumpen Radio‘s Eco Chicago:

Westside Bee Boyz

For Thad Smith, his business is more about sales and marketing then the bees themselves. In this way, he takes after his father, the “best salesman in the world.”

“He liked what he did, he was passionate about what he did. Didn’t matter what he was selling. He sold appliances, so he sold that all his life. So it doesn’t matter what freaking appliance it was…. You know the appliance, and you can sell it. And that’s all it was. He knew his craft, and I know bees and honey and I know entrepreneurship.”

Smith can talk at length about the different varieties of honey. But when I ask him if he has a favorite, he deadpans.

“I hate honey,” he says seriously. “I can’t stand honey. I can’t stand it. And I’ma tell you why: if you worked in a slaughterhouse, you would not eat meat.” Fair enough.

Belmont Feed and Seed

Lidia Andronic’s table is especially popular with children, likely because of the fifteen or so chicks meandering in the table’s glass tank, over which Andronic presides like a judge. She likes asking people if they want to hold the chicks: it’s the first thing she does as I approach her stand.

“I grew up with chickens. And [my family owns] Belmont Feed and Seed of Chicago, so the store always carried some chicken supplies. We started bringing the chickens in years ago.”

As we talk, one of Hollinden’s sons approaches demurely.

“Excuse me,” he says. “We want to hold one of the baby chickens.”

“Yeah? You want the small ones?” she says.

“Mhm.”

She removes the tank’s wire grid top, scoops a chicken up, and transfers it to the boy’s hands with careful instructions. She takes a picture of him cradling the chick, smiling.

Did you like this article? Support local journalism by donating to South Side Weekly today.

Thoughts on “Fair and Fowl”

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *