Texas Church Raises a Different Kind of Flock

June 15, 2015 07:00 AM
Texas Church Raises a Different Kind of Flock

There is no egg shortage at Cluckingham Palace.

Nestled behind First Christian Church, the new coop is home to two Rhode Island Red hens. Six more chickens are on the way, and the church eventually plans to raise a dozen — all of which will result in more eggs at a time when they are in high demand.

"The chickens are a hit," said Willie Redmon, who is director of Harvesting Hope Community Garden, an outreach of the church. "People can't get enough. Kids have a blast playing with them, and all of the city dwellers are learning a little about farm life."

Cluckingham Palace, as it is called, is an expansion of the church's 5-year-old community garden. A partnership with the Tarrant Area Food Bank, the garden has 58 raised beds on one acre. Two in-ground beds provide fruits and vegetables to Mission Arlington.

Each plot rents for $35 a year, although no one is turned away for lack of money, Redmon told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. And as part of the contract, all gardeners are asked to donate 10 percent of their haul.

Gardeners include First Christian members, but also high school and college students, nearby neighbors and members of a local mosque.

"The garden is our little piece of heaven," said Nancy Redmon, Willie's wife and the volunteer coordinator. "It is incredibly peaceful, safe, quiet. People can come here and be with nature and God."

Recently, noting the trend of backyard flocks, the Redmons sought to add hens to Harvesting Hope. First Christian loved the idea.

"It's this wonderful full-circle system," said Heather Santi-Brown, an assistant minister. "The waste from the chickens goes into the compost, which then enriches the soil and our crops."

A national egg shortage could boost the trend, Redmon said.

More than 5 million hens have been destroyed after a bird flu outbreak in the Midwest, and domestic egg production is expected to fall in 2015 for the first time since 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Because of the shortage, Whataburger announced this week it will stop selling eggs after 9 a.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m. on weekends. H-E-B grocery stores, including Central Market locations in Tarrant County, have limited the number of egg cartons each customer can buy to three.

Urban chicken coops have grown in popularity in recent years. Vendors have sold backyard coops at the Fort Worth Stock Show in recent years and a Google search for urban chicken coops will keep you clicking on sites like urbanchickens.org and backyardchickens.com.

Betty Humphrey, owner of Texas Chicken Coops on U.S. 377 in between Tolar and Granbury, said she doesn't think the egg shortage will boost their business because they already stay busy.

Humphrey said her husband, Don, builds custom coops that are designed specifically to for individual homeowners.

For instance, she said, "we can match shingles and house styles."

She said they can be adjusted to fit the size of the owner — "a football player will need a taller coop."

She said besides having chickens that are producing healthy eggs, many people are nostalgic about living during a time when life was simpler — and slower.

"They want to go back to where people went out in the yard again instead of watching television or having their children on the computer," Humphrey said. "Now children are actually excited to go outside and collect the eggs."

Redmon agreed.

"People are so removed from agriculture these days. We go to the grocery store and pick up anything we want. In a lot of ways, we have lost out," Redmon said.

At First Christian, a team of 14 volunteers cares for the chickens, which have yet to be named. Each hen lays an egg about every 16 to 24 hours.

Redmon said the garden and coop fit in well with the church's mission to serve others.

"We are feeding people, but also feeding souls," he said. "We have members who have lost spouses and parents, who are unemployed, who are dealing with depression. When you come out here to pull weeds or loosen soil, you focus on the task at hand. Your troubles tend to melt away for a bit."--Sarah Bahari, Fort Worth Star-Telegram


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