Priscilla, Queen of the BCB 

Local innovator creates Backyard Chicken Barns for sale

Since it's so hot that Boiseans are flocking to the snowy film March of the Penguins just to fantasize, we dispense with gardening this week. Everything looks like crap anyway.

I'm fond of the game where you sit around with friends and take the title of a book, movie or song and replace one word in it with an agreed-upon word ... like: "Sweet Dreams Are Made of (Pants)" or Harry Potter and the Wizard of (Pants). If you want to play Extreme Replace-A-Word, there are always Star Wars lines that need improving: "Attention. This is Lando Calrissean. The Empire has taken control of my pants; I advise everyone to leave before more troops arrive."

You can play this with "chickens," which is a funny word pretty much no matter what you do with it: Revenge of the Chicken, Gone With The Chicken and let's not forget the Humphrey Bogart classic The African Chicken. See? So when asked to write about a chickenish subject, the thrill went right through me and my ... (pants).

A local environmental entrepreneur named Susan Medlin feels strongly that chickens are not only funny, they are downright responsible. No, she doesn't mean you can trust them to return their library books on time, it's the HAVING chickens thing. Susan aims to convert pretty much anybody who wanders by her Backyard Chicken Barn booth at the Saturday Farmer's Market downtown to this point of view.

Susan has a message, and by god I like it: Let's all have tidy little two-chicken barns in our backyards. Let's eat the eggs while Henrietta and Harriet snarf up the earwigs, ticks, spiders and bugs that keep getting in the house. Let's feed them kitchen scraps, use the chicken poo to fertilize the garden and take the chickens for walks. No, wait; they take themselves for walks. Even better! Her company manufactures and sells The Backyard Chicken Barn, a kit complete with feeders and food, nesting material and two chemically pure, free-range laying hens from Meadowlark Farm in Nampa. Plus, a crack team of chicken experts will deliver and set up the whole magilla.

Susan wants us to stay attached to where our food comes from, and that doesn't mean chaining ourselves to the door at WinCo. It means watching the whole cycle, from chicken to egg to table, and watching side benefits like the bug-eating and full circle effect-using food scraps to feed another species which gives something back to us with which to feed ourselves. "When people, especially children, are involved in this cycle, it makes them more aware of not wasting things and where raw food really comes from. It's even a little lesson in the economics of food."

"I have no illusions about changing the world, but I believe if you understand, you should try to contribute," said Susan, who has a Ph.D. in political economics. "America's food supply is increasingly global and dependent on imports. And our own farming system is largely controlled by corporations who will take their business elsewhere if it can be done more cheaply." Through backyard projects like suburban gardens and chicken setups, the negative ecological and social impact of large-scale, industrial food production may be made clearer to Americans, she believes.

The BCB is adorable. It's about two by four feet, made of rust-colored heavy aluminum, and is artfully decorated with portraits of historically important chickens. It has a teeny peaked roof and a tiny hayloft door and a little bitty ramp that hooks onto the door so that Maisy and Daisy can not only enter their suite in style, but also qualify for handicapped parking. All the pieces and parts are easily removed so you can hose off that grand fertilizer straight into your rose bushes.

"Hens are easy to have around," Susan claims. "They're quiet and curious, they have no interest in playing fetch, they need very little space and they're fun to watch." She knows chickens that come when they're called by name, and one chicken trained to flap up to the roof of the house and then jump, on command, into the owner's arms. (It's about time Boise was represented on Pet Star, so someone track that one down, would you?)

What if you and your chicken just don't grok each other-you know, bad chemistry? Or what if one chicken doesn't like another chicken? If you're going to have a relationship with these hens, I feel this is important information. "Oh, we swap," she said cheerfully, "it's been known to happen." Do I get to name my own chickens? "I wouldn't dream of naming your chicken for you. Just remember they're all girls."

Finally, my traditional question: Are chickens Republican or Democrat? "Oh," Susan said seriously, "they're above all that." BAWK! Over-easy, please.

Contact Susan Medlin at 336-1206. Send chicken jokes to gardenlefty@cableone.net.

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