The Trendiness of Backyard Chickens

This morning, I ate an egg laid by Mrs. Darth Vader. It was a beautiful pastel green egg with a healthy orange yolk which rose as the egg crackled in my frying pan. The egg certainly didn’t look like it would be associated with a nefarious Star Wars character. And yet, there was comfort in knowing that my breakfast came from a hen so well treated that she even had a name, albeit a silly one.

I usually don’t know the name of the chicken who lays my eggs. Even though I typically buy cage-free eggs, the carton never shows pictures and names of the happy producers. And although it seems trendy to raise free-range chickens in Upper Valley yards these days, I don’t plan on raising hens anytime soon. When I was growing up, my parents kept a rooster and two hens in our backyard after rescuing them from a nearby abandoned property. We built a hen house and a fence, and properly researched raising poultry. Yet, the rooster nipped at my little sister’s heels and my mother couldn’t cook enough omelets to keep up with the eggs. One short year later, we handed the chickens over to a nearby farmer with more patience and thicker skin on his feet.

So, having a colleague gift me a dozen beautiful green eggs — yes, they come naturally, not just in the imagination of Dr. Seuss — from her backyard was a real treat. She gave me the carton as a token of appreciation for helping her transition to her new job. She could have brought me flowers or taken me to lunch, but the eggs were the far more exciting treat. As I marveled at the oval beauties, she explained that her family collects eggs daily from Mrs. Darth Vader as well as her other four cluckers: Caramel, Butterscotch, Owl Face and Ghirardelli. On the top of a carton was packaging which explained that the chickens are well guarded by Penny Lane, the family’s Labrador retriever. It felt completely typical for the Upper Valley.

After all, the Upper Valley is filled with hobby farmers whose backyards are utopias of purpose and playfulness. I have friends who are beekeepers, milkmen and maple syrup boilers. I have neighbors who raise piglets and others who forage for morel mushrooms. Sure, it’s great to meet a farmer at a local farmers market who will sell you milk from his local dairy cows. But it’s even better when your best friend milks her family cow (named Holy, as in holy cow) to provide you with fresh cream with your coffee.

I look forward to the summer months when my fridge is filled not only with vegetables, but also filled with love. Pete gives me sungold tomatoes. Wynne picks me homemade grapes. Bernard gives me leafy greens. And Ben gives me berries. None of them are farmers by trade, but they all enjoy sharing the bounty of the backyard.

Me? I’m not a huge contributor to the trade. But, in the late summer, I do have stamina for picking more black raspberries than I need. I boil and sugar them down to preserves, and hand out jars to anyone within arm’s reach. It gives me great joy to have a friend coo with excitement over homemade jam from my Upper Valley backyard. And as soon as berry season arrives, I plan on giving my colleague a jar of sweetness in exchange for more green eggs.

Yes, life is good when you know where your breakfast comes from. And it’s even better when you know the name of the chicken producing your egg. And when her name is Mrs. Darth Vader? Well, that’s something to cluck about.

(As posted in the Valley News on May 31, 2015)


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