By Rebecca Tolin
I’ve grown up mainly a city girl. Sure, I secretly pine to prance off to a lavender farm in the French countryside or an organic vegetable plantation on a misty isle of Hawaii. My heart is linked to San Diego by beloved family and friends, though – and surely there are few places graced with so much beauty, sunlight, natural splendor and fertile land. (We have more small organic farms than any county in the country!)
As a journalist and documentary filmmaker, I live out fantasies through other people’s lives. It’s a safe and exciting proposition. I’d long been intrigued by urban chickens, ever since discovering a woman with two young sons and a hidden coop in an eclectic and notably dense urban neighborhood. I was interviewing Brook Sarson about water harvesting (from the giant barn-colored rain barrel in her yard as well as from runaway shower and dishwater) for a print story on conservation in our parched Southern California environs. That’s how I discovered Sarson’s illegal chickens and her almost unquenchable need to connect to the land – despite the fact hens were not kosher under city codes at that time.
I was moved. The mind of a reporter spins with questions. Was there an entire underground movement of urban farmers harboring these “bootleg chickens”? Sure was, it happened. I eventually met “Farmer Bill” Tall who grows 90 percent of the food he eats from his landlocked acre in City Heights, flush with chickens, ducks and tilapia, honeybees, goats, and a horse, along with the urban farmer’s plentiful harvests of vegetables and fruits. Farmer Bill took in orphaned chickens, those unfortunate cluckers evicted from city limits.
Brook Sarson also found it in her heart to chicken-sit a displaced flock from the Dunn-Flynn family after the city threatened them with a $1000 fine unless they banished the birds. Oh no! How had we humans decided that good-hearted, chicken-tending, tax-paying families should be deprived of their ability to grow their own food, to pick warm, blue eggs and soft, green chard from the garden for omelets?
I must make a film about this, I decide. So I do. Chicks in the City is a documentary short about these intrepid homesteaders and their beloved hens. Call it a chick flick, if you must. It’s got charm, but there’s substance too.
Chicks in the City is about how the city of San Diego passed a bold law in January 2012, legalizing chickens and – get this – miniature goats, plus honeybees, for most people in single family homes. It’s about how husbandry is on the front lines of the urban agriculture movement, a foodie phenomenon sweeping the nation and beyond. It’s about reclaiming our food, the three-meals-a-day stuff that makes up our own flesh and blood.
And, perhaps most importantly, it’s about finding peace amidst the hustle of cars and bustle of garbage trucks. It’s about connecting to the seasons, the rhythms of nature, the land, animals, plants, bugs and good old-fashioned, non-genetically modified dirt.
During the course of our production, this city girl (who could not exactly be accused of having a green thumb) even started growing her own vegetables in her own backyard. No chickens yet but I wouldn’t rule it out, thanks to some intrepid poultry pioneers. They’re legal now, you know, and many species are quite affectionate yet demand far less attention than a dog. When I got to hold a golden, downy soft Buff Orphington one day while making the film, I do know that was the most peaceful moment of them all.
Upcoming Chicks in the city events:
Rebecca Tolin is the producer, director and writer of Chicks in the City. She’ll serve up local craft brews, cider and wine at Local Habit restaurant in Hillcrest on November 26thfrom 5PM – 10:30PM. A portion of drinks sold will benefit Chicks in the City. Learn more about the film and upcoming events at http://www.facebook.com/chicksinthecitymovie and remember to “like” us!