Backyard Chickens and Other Springtime Surprises


backyard chickens' width=

Perhaps this is the year you’ve decided to finally get on board with the biggest trend in eco homesteading—backyard chickens. If so, you need a coop. Look no further than The Green Coop which makes their attractive chicken homes from sustainable plywood with cedar shake shingles and low-VOC paint. There are lots of options available including The Alexandria ($589), a popular model that features triple built-in nesting boxes with locking lids that make it easy to retrieve eggs, a cedar shake roof and 12 square feet of interior space. An A-frame run, which allows chickens a protected area to access grass and sunshine, makes for a nice extension ($339).—Brita Belli


Just when it seems that local food could not get any more chic, along comes an inspiring film that casts small-scale, organic farmers as nothing less than environmental heroes. The Greenhorns is a 50-minute documentary that shows a series of passionate agrarians—all in their twenties and thirties—sowing seeds, raising hogs and delivering Community Supported Agriculture boxes. Never has the farming profession looked so sexy.

The film is produced and directed by Severine von Tscharner Fleming, an activist who lives and farms in New York’s Hudson Valley. Fleming also serves as narrator, deploying the frank, occasionally droll humor characteristic of public radio show This American Life.

backyard chickens' width=

Says one California farmer named Chris Velez: “For my dad to hear that his son wants to go back and be a dirt farmer—he was totally supportive but I think he would have preferred to see me become an insurance salesman.”

But the rolling green vistas of farm after farm belie a serious subtext. Fleming and her fellow farmers want viewers to join them in lobbying Congress and Uncle Sam for agricultural reform. As narrator, she notes that 400 million acres of farmland will change hands in the next two decades. These young farmers want to return to the land, but they need government loans to start up. Meanwhile, millions of Americans lack access to fresh food.

The Greenhorns is not being distributed through conventional cinemas. I saw it in a hip Chicago bar. (“How many of you intend to become farmers?” the emcee asked. Half of the people in the audience raised their hands.) The film will also appear at progressive and food-themed events around the country throughout the year. For the “organization” price of $150, one can buy a copy. The price drops to $50 if you’re a farmer. —Christopher Weber


backyard chickens' width=

Filling Easter baskets or planning an Easter egg hunt and dreading the combo of chemicals, coloring and waste? A wholesale chocolate company has released eco eggs ($30/case of 72), compostable plastic Easter eggs made in the U.S.A. from nontoxic corn starch that can be either saved for next year or composted. And instead of food dye-laden traditional jellybeans, fill those eggs with organic jellybeans from Surf Sweets ($4.49/8oz.bag), that come in flavors like tropical punch, lemonade, mixed berry, pineapple, tangerine and water-melon. Made with organic fruit juice and sweeteners—without corn syrup—they actually taste like real fruit. And round out baskets with chocolate goodies like Dark Chocolate with Deep Forest Mint Treats from Endangered Species Chocolate ($44.99/160 pieces), —individually wrapped chocolate squares made with 72% cocoa content that are certified gluten-free, vegan, kosher and contribute to species and habitat conservation efforts. —B.B.

backyard chickens' width=


With a little creativity, there is no end to the possibilities for reusing packaging. A company called Box Play for Kids LLC has made turning boxes into objects of delight a whole lot easier with a line of 100% recycled stickers that can transform a milk carton into a pig, fire truck, cow or train ($8/sticker); a tube into a baseball bat, horn, dog or bowling pin ($4-$5/sticker); an egg carton into a piano or caterpillar ($5/sticker), a cereal box into a record player ($6/sticker) and much more. Whether you borrow their great ideas for your own creations or start stickering your leftover boxes, you may soon find you don’t need nearly as many new toys as you thought. —B.B.

backyard chickens' width=


Caribou Coffee is the first major coffee company in the U.S. to source 100% of its coffee and espresso beans from Rainforest Alliance (RA) Certified™ farms. The company worked directly with growers in North and South America, Africa and South East Asia to encourage them to meet RA’s standards for wildlife protection, water and soil conservation, chemical reduction and fair wages for workers. One of Caribou Coffee’s newest blends—Eclipse Blend ($14.99/lb.)—will appeal to coffee lovers on the dark side of the spectrum. It offers hints of dates, cloves, bittersweet chocolate, dried cherry and cardamom, and online reviewers rave about its smoothness and detectable flavor undertones. —B.B.