Home Life Social Commentary

On Urban Chickens

Chicken Feeding
Chicken Feeding

LAKE MACBRIDE— It is with a bit of trepidation that I venture into another expository piece about urban chickens. As people continue to move from rural areas to cities, attracted by jobs, apartments, and a type of society reliant upon the aggregation of diverse human interests, to raise chickens at home seems anachronistic.

By definition, city life eschews barnyard animals. Getting rid of urban chickens, pigs and cows was part of the rise of the public health movement. Whether intentional or not, urban society, by definition, replaced the need to produce one’s own food. Why else would so many people have left the farm but to take advantage of society’s mass production capacity? To seek a return of urban livestock is a throwback to an era that was not necessarily better.

Nearby North Liberty is considering an ordinance to allow city folk to raise chickens in their yards. As I mentioned in my March post, this type of pursuit seems to be a material interest in pursuit of respectability among peers, rather than about nutrition. What makes the North Liberty proposal different is the requirement for neighborhood consent, rather than providing a courtesy notification of a chicken coop under construction. If passed, the ordinance would build community feelings, predictably on both ends of the love-hate continuum. Already there’s squawking.

At first reading, it is unclear to whom the ordinance would apply:  whether or not the city would preempt home owners associations with a local address from making their own rules. The way the current ordinance is written, home owners associations could be more restrictive and disallow home chickens even if the city does permit them. Preemption has a long and controversial history in Iowa, notably as it applies to concentrated animal feeding operations where lobbying groups want control centralized in Des Moines in the self-interest of focusing their lobbying efforts with less resources. I’m confident the city council will work through this issue.

Some cried foul over the 25 foot rule (the coop, fowl house, or fenced pen area shall be a minimum of 25 feet from any property line), saying it was too restrictive, or the chicken coop location would be aesthetically challenged. This aspect of the draft ordinance serves my point that urban chickens are more like pets than food sources. More like a landscaping ornament or a window treatment for a view of lives where there is not enough constructive work to do.

The limit is four chickens, kept in a confinement facility— hens only. There were no instructions on how to determine if a chick was a rooster or a hen, but a Facebook friend resolved the issue by saying, “once a cockerel is old enough to crow, it’s big enough for the dinner plate.” This raises the issue of chicken slaughter. My grandmother lived on a farm, and knew the process well. During my time in French Army Commando School, we learned how to turn the gift of local partisan support into food for survival. Slaughtering animals for meat just doesn’t go with contemporary notions of city life. Maybe it should.

What I am saying is the idea of urban chickens is adjunct to local food systems. It is more an expression of bourgeois libertarianism in a consumer culture, than a revolution in local food production. Gil Scott-Heron famously wrote “the revolution will not be televised,” and we are hearing too much about regulation of urban chickens on the T.V., so a reverse logic applies: the local news is covering the story, so therefore it can’t be a revolution.

In the end, a community should have self-determination on how people live. I’m not against urban chickens, but don’t see the point. It seems like a lot of work and expense for a small number of boutique pet chickens. Why not buy the best eggs from the grocery store, or farmers market, or barter for eggs and save the money? And maybe get a dog or cat at the animal shelter, as they make better pets.


Climate March Staff Trained by Al Gore

Great Climate March Staff
Great Climate March Staff

CHICAGO, Ill.– The staff of The Great March for Climate Action was spotted by Blog for Iowa at the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training held in Chicago from July 30 through Aug. 1. (L to R: Shari Hrdina, Zach Heffernen and Courtney Kain). The event was the 23rd training of climate leaders conducted by former vice president Al Gore since exiting politics. As Gore said about himself, “I am a recovering politician.” The Climate Reality Project has become an important part of his life’s work.

On July 31, Gore began a twelve hour day by presenting the latest version of the slide show he developed that became the book and film An Inconvenient Truth. He then explained the slide show, one slide at a time, so attendees could present it themselves. He closed the day with group photos with training attendees. The Great March for Climate Action staff was part of a cadre of 1,200 people from all 50 states and 40 countries who participated in the training.

While the Great March for Climate Action has not been endorsed by the Climate Reality Project, organizers permitted staff to distribute brochures about the march to attendees. During the final day of the training, Mario Molina, Climate Leadership Corps Director, made an announcement about the march to the group, calling attention to the staff, encouraging attendees to seek more information.

Courtney Kain is the Great March for Climate Action operations director, and importantly, in charge of logistics. Her background includes time with Iowa Army National Guard at Camp Dodge, where she worked in supply and logistics. Kain was instrumental in developing the march route, and is developing sustainable methods to move, feed and take care of 1,000 people over the course of their 3,000 mile journey.

According to Zach Heffernen, marcher director, about 20 applications to join the march had been approved. Speaking of the marcher recruitment effort, he said, “sending out the application is very exciting for me. The diversity of individuals who requested an application is impressive. They range in age from nine to 74, originate from all along the West Coast to the Midwest to all along the East Coast, and have backgrounds ranging from college students, to self employed business professionals, to medical doctors, to retirees and everything in between.” Attendees of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training expressed interest, and some of them had already been approved for the march.

While Courtney and Zach will be joining Ed Fallon and the rest of the marchers, Shari Hrdina will remain in Des Moines providing financial support for the endeavor.

According to the Great March for Climate Action Facebook page, “marchers can look forward to seeing the official updated version of the “Inconvenient Truth” slideshow on the march next year.”

For more information about the Great March for Climate Action, check out their web site by clicking here. To learn more about the Climate Reality Project, click here.

~ Written for Blog for Iowa

Kitchen Garden

Cookbooks Galore

Books from the Library Sale
Books from the Library Sale

Will the Internet make cookbooks obsolete, except for nostalgia and sentimental attachment? I think it already has.

Late Sunday this email came in from Friends of the Solon Library: “There are four boxes of cookbooks leftover from the Friends Used Book Sale!   Stop by this week and bring home some new recipes!  They are located in the hallway on a small cart next to the regular used book cart.”

Comme d’habitude, I was an early bird for the sale, and had browsed through the much larger than usual cookbook selection. Not much of interest for me, as I have been collecting social group fundraising cookbooks for years, and have about all a person could wish for. Cookbooks from my home town, from my new home, from the hospital where I was born, and the one where our daughter was born, from the church where I was baptized, from area businesses, from the Stone Academy (a local one room school house), from the American Trucking Association, from where I worked, and a host of specialty and celebrity chef cookbooks. Adding more of the same seems so 20th century.

The truth is my focus when cooking has turned to what local food is fresh and available, and what techniques will be used to transform raw product into a meal. Occasionally I’ll search for a recipe, but it is usually on the Internet, making my point. The focus is on the food.

The attraction of browsing hundreds of cookbooks may serve some writing project, but it is not how we live now. It’s not how we cook. What matters more is producing local food, with fresh and local ingredients as an expression of character and personality, rather than that of the scion of a family kitchen disconnected from here and now.

Cookbooks will be around, and my collection seems unlikely to decrease in size. Clearly, from the email, if I add cook books to my downsizing, they won’t move at the used book sale. I can’t bear the thought of them languishing in the hallway with the other remainders.

Social Commentary

Directions in High Summer

Lake Macbride
Lake Macbride

LAKE MACBRIDE— Some days it’s hard to know the path. On Friday, still tired from long days in Chicago and facing a full slate of regular work combined with the search for paying work, it was a bust. Saturday was better, engaging in society— a slow walk with neighbors and friends.

Part of living in Iowa is an endless stream of birthdays, graduations, anniversaries and other celebrations. On Saturday there were two, the one year wedding anniversary reception for a friend in the peace and justice movement, and a 50th wedding anniversary reception for a neighbor I got to know shortly after we moved to Big Grove. Both events served great food and drink, and enabled me to get caught up with friends.

Conversations included a discussion of dating in the 1960s, the recent Green Party national convention in Iowa City, next week’s Veterans for Peace national convention, what to do with zucchini, demonstrations for nuclear abolition, nuclear power, Blackhawk and Poweshiek, pioneer cemeteries, gardening, a YouTube video shot in high summer and more.

I don’t often visit Central City, where one of the events was held, and stopped for directions. Off Highway 13, a local was selling produce. He had a grain wagon decorated with advertising for his farm stand on the highway. When I asked if he was from the area, he said, “of course.”

He sold seasonal produce, the usual fare, including melons, zucchini and tomatoes. He had a flat of Missouri peaches, fresh and made into jam, and when asked about them, showed one he had begun to slice, offering a taste. Sweet and juicy. I bought a pound and a half for two dollars and he gave me directions to the park where the event was being held. Of course, he knew where it was.

Two decades after the rise of the Internet, being with people in social settings remains compelling. We are drawn to events with a craving for company. Bearing cards with handwritten notes, hoping to give greetings and hear stories, little has changed over centuries.  It is an important part of sustaining a life on the Iowa prairie, and help in finding our way in a turbulent world.


Letter to Dave Loebsack

Open Letter to Congressman Dave Loebsack of Iowa’s Second District

Put a Price on Carbon

When I helped elect you to be our congressman, I didn’t know what that would mean. What I did know was that I wouldn’t agree with every vote you took. I haven’t.

Over the longer term of the last six and a half years, your votes with which I agreed outnumbered those with which I didn’t, and you have done the right thing when it has been important.

The next right thing is supporting President Obama’s second term initiative on climate change.

I ask you to seek ways to support the president’s agenda, importantly, by assigning a price to carbon. I encourage you to follow the lead of your former house colleague Senator Ed Markey on this.

I understand you may be reluctant to speak out on this important issue because of the negative political feedback you might receive. At the same time, you should land on the right side of history.

During your many trips to the district, I heard you speak repeatedly about how the Republican house leadership controls the agenda, so you don’t need to drag out that old sawhorse. Just know that CO2 emissions are directly related to the crazy weather Iowa has been experiencing, and we can do something to reverse the causes of CO2 emissions which contribute to global warming and climate change. Placing a price on carbon is an essential step.

As your constituent, I expect you to do your part.

Thanks for your work, and I’ll see you in the district this summer.

Regards, Paul

(UPDATE: Congressman Loebsack replied on Aug. 15, 2013)

Dear Mr. Deaton,

Thank you for contacting me about environmental issues. I’m honored to represent you. Your opinion is very important to me and my priority is to provide Iowa’s Second District with the best representation possible.

I am pleased to see the President speaking out on climate change issues recently. As the conversation on climate change continues in our national dialogue, I believe that people need to accept the science on this issue. We continue to face an increase of severe weather events across the country and globe that are threatening the safety of many and deeply costing our families, businesses, and communities.

I also agree that we need to reduce the amount of pollutants produced and concentrated in our atmosphere. It is critical that we work to address environmental issues occurring right now so that we pass on to our children and grandchildren a livable environment in the future. The current drought gripping Iowa demonstrates the difficulties that Iowa farmers, businesses, and families may face if negative climate uncertainties continue.

You may be interested to know I previously supported legislation to limit the amount of pollutants emitted, like carbon dioxide, and transform our outdated energy policy into one that reinvigorates American industrial and manufacturing sectors and allows Iowa’s thriving renewable energy sector to grow and become a global leader in clean energy production.

As a member of the Sustainable Energy and Environment Caucus, I will continue to look at ways to reduce pollution and promote the use of homegrown renewable energy alternatives. Thank you again for contacting me about this important issue.

My office is here to assist you with any and all concerns you have, so please do not hesitate to contact me whenever you feel that I can be of assistance. I encourage you to visit my website at and sign up for my e-newsletters to stay informed of the work I’m doing for you. I am proud to serve the Second District, and I am committed to working hard for Iowans.

Dave Loebsack
Iowa’s Second District


Reflections on Chicago

Chicago Skyline
Chicago Skyline

LAKE MACBRIDE— After cleaning out my email inbox, catching up on LinkedIn, twitter and Facebook, and skimming the scum from a batch of dill pickles, I walked outside evaluate the garden. Weeds are taking over again. It is disheartening how quickly nature attempts to return gardens to the wild. I pulled a few weeds, realizing tomorrow will be more of the same to preserve the yield. No worries, it’s part of being a gardener.

There were half a dozen zucchini; a yellow squash; peppers ready to pick— two green bell peppers, Anaheim and jalapeno; and stems of broccoli, enough for a meal. Hard to believe I was gone only three days. The cucumber seedlings planted Monday had an 80 percent survival rate, and the remainders will fill in empty spaces. Already a work queue is forming. Before continuing August’s work, for a few brief moments in the garden and orchard, I considered my experience in Chicago with the Climate Reality Project.

Gate 26
Gate 26

I know cults and utopian movements, and the recent gathering was neither. After spending an evening with disciples of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in Munich, with charismatic renewal congregations of the Catholic Church in Ann Arbor, Mich. and in Belgium, and with the Rev. Tommy Barnett and his Westside Assembly of God in my home town, there aren’t many religious similarities. People gathered around a key speaker, and that’s about it.

These were not Rappites, Icarians, Shakers, members of the Amana Society, or of the Blythedale Farm community. Nor was it like what one finds in science fiction— the technology laden tales of Doc Smith, Walter Miller Jr. or Robert Heinlein. Comparisons drawn from these genres of society fall flat.

10 Percent Ethanol
10 Percent Ethanol

A few so-called moles participated in the training, representatives of the oil and gas industry, deniers, and skeptics about global warming. Their reports about the conference have already begun to emerge. What these folks don’t seem to realize is they validate the fact that the Climate Reality Project poses a serious threat to the status quo of the hydrocarbon business. Their presence and criticisms make our group stronger, even if the hydrocarbon industry outspends the Climate Reality Project in its advocacy.

To resist arguments to act on climate change, the hydrocarbon industry has to understand them. Part of our participation includes an understanding that advocating for action about climate change does not occur in a vacuum. As is written in the Art of War, “it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles.” What better way to know our opponents than to have them with us at the conference?

59th Street Station
59th Street Station

That said, the Climate Reality Project is for the most part about Al Gore and his unique role in 21st century society. A number of attendees with whom I spoke pointed to Gore’s loss of the 2000 election as a reason for becoming involved with his movement. The slide show Gore produced, and is perpetually revising, is not a new story, but it is his story. His closing speech on day two of the conference was a compelling call to help prevent the Earth we know from slipping away from us. It was compelling because of who he is and who we might be.

Organizing for Action
Organizing for Action

Attendees agreed to perform ten acts of leadership related to the project during the coming year. Like many who were there, I’ll perform my share and more.

In the end, this movement is not about Al Gore. It is about living in a post-enlightenment society. It is a time when rational arguments have flown the coop, leaving the din of pundits and poobahs,  and a dirty environment as a result of not understanding the global consequences of CO2 pollution. We can do something about that, and should. An answer lies in placing a value on carbon, which was my takeaway from the conference. Now the work begins anew.

Social Commentary

Chicago Settles In

Police Call Box
Police Call Box

CHICAGO, Ill.— My third day in Chicago and most noticeable is how isolate and deserted everything seems. Metra riders move deliberately through the motions of public transit, saying little. Well groomed, they move diligently toward their destinations, one wearing plastic bags on her feet to keep the rain from the dressy work shoes. The 59th Street station has been empty each time I rode the train.

On the way to my bed from the station, I passed countless police telephones and friendly security people in drizzling rain, as if to say there may be danger on this quiet street, but people are watching in the dim blue light of the call boxes. Sleep came quickly after a long day.

This morning, I drove along Lake Shore Drive and through the truck marshaling area for McCormick Place to parking Lot B. It’s cheap there, $14 the day, and an easier getaway after today’s work. The meeting room was accessed through a labyrinthine path of underground, past truck docks and security, with the din of fans and clatter of forklift trucks. Almost alone, I found the path, avoiding doors locked against early morning intruders and riding escalators up and down the levels of the building. I solemnly made may way to the concourse in search of coffee.

I’m no longer new to Chicago, and have driven and walked her streets— no longer do I get lost. It is a city that minds its own business, with nose to the grindstone of industry. A place where external signs hide everything that matters. Chicago has settled in to lives more diverse than Sandburg envisioned. The city of big shoulders is hunched over into individual lives within the enclaves of a consumer society.

Environment Kitchen Garden

Paying Tolls on the Ronald Reagan Road

10 Percent Ethanol
10 Percent Ethanol

CHICAGO, Ill.— Yesterday I was surprised to notice the irrigation of corn fields along the Ronald Reagan Toll Road, or Interstate 88 in Illinois. What defines the Midwest and its row crops is the generous rainfall that enables crops without irrigation. This isn’t Nebraska after all.

Maybe the rigs have been there for a while, but they were not a good sign of how the Midwest is contending with dry conditions. It was irritating to see the nozzles aimed poorly, watering large sections of roads. Not irritating enough to stop the car, find the farmer and ask him or her about it. I didn’t want to be late.

In preventing the effects of climate change, depleting our aquifers for crop irrigation is not the right path.

There was plenty to think about as I made my way into the loop and McCormick Place for the conference. Water management in the climate changed Midwest is a thought that persisted until morning.

Kitchen Garden Living in Society

Farm Bill Forum in Johnson County

Representatives Peterson and Loebsack
Representatives Peterson and Loebsack

On Saturday, July 27, Rep. Dave Loebsack (IA-02) and Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-07), ranking member of the house agriculture committee, held a farm bill forum at the Johnson County Extension Office. Over 40 people attended, and a lot of ground was covered related to the farm bill, how the U.S. Congress works (or doesn’t), and during an open question and answer period with discussion of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), change in the agriculture committee makeup after the 2010 election, crop insurance, conservation, rural development, LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program), the renewable fuel standard and target prices for direct payments for wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton and rice. The forum was a primer for anyone who wanted to learn the recent history of the farm bill.

Rep. Loebsack said, “last year was the time to pass the farm bill.” Congress extended the 2007 farm bill for a year, and that extension expires on Sept. 30. Representatives of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Corn Growers Association present at the forum indicated they did not want another extension. One audience member pointed to a $50,000 direct payment he would receive this year he didn’t need and didn’t want. Loebsack attributed the situation to the failure of congress to pass a new farm bill last year.

Rep. Peterson said the agriculture committee members had reached a bipartisan agreement last year, but the problem was (and remains) the Republican leadership. He was more specific, saying “it wasn’t Speaker Boehner… he never got in the way.” He added, Eric Cantor is the problem, “he’s the guy who screwed this thing up in the house.”

Mike Owen, executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, entreated the congressmen to take the political spin out of SNAP because it was destructive to families who depend upon the $1.30 per person per meal the program provides. A food pantry volunteer added, “it’s not just SNAP.” The farm bill impacts food pantries, meals on wheels and other nutrition programs people rely upon. Rep. Peterson was direct, “there will be more SNAP cuts (in order to pass a farm bill).”

The clock is ticking on getting a farm bill passed by Oct. 1. After this week, congress begins the August recess, reconvening on Sept. 8 or 9. The U.S. Senate has formally requested a conference committee, but house members have not been appointed. According to Peterson, they may not be until after the recess. There is time, but not any extra.

The framework for the farm bill has been set by the U.S. Senate version, for which the entire Iowa delegation voted. Passing the farm bill comes down to the U.S. Congress doing their work, something at which they have been less than effective. Also something could go wrong between now and Oct. 1 to stop the farm bill from moving, according to Peterson.

After the farm bill failed last year, Peterson said, speaking of the Republican house majority, “you guys have finally made me a partisan.” If SNAP is cut completely by the conference committee and replaced with block grants, as some conservatives want, the Democratic house delegation is expected to walk away, and the farm bill would expire. Well funded groups like the Heritage Foundation, Club for Growth, the Wall Street Journal and others have lobbied hard to cut SNAP, get rid of conservation and rural development programs, and crop insurance.

If readers are interested in more information about any of these topics, please post a comment below, and I’ll reply with any relevant information from the forum.

Home Life

A Gift Basket for My Hosts

LAKE MACBRIDE— Hundreds of us are converging upon Chicago for the Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. To avoid the expense of the conference hotel, I will be staying with friends of a friend for the duration. I’m making up a gift basket of produce for them. It’s a showcase of the local, organic produce that is passing through our house this summer.

Included will be a pointed cabbage, green and yellow zucchini, blue lake green beans, market more cucumber, yellow squash, a box of cherry tomatoes,  kohlrabi, daikon radish, broccoli and a jar of home made apple butter. If there’s sunlight in the morning, I’ll add herbs: rosemary, basil, flat leaf parsley, sage and thyme.

To keep the veggies, I’m dumping the freezer’s ice in a cooler, topping it with a water barrier and the veggies. Hopefully it will survive the trip.

It is somewhat ironic that while I am with Al Gore, one of the leaders in the use of technology, and a board member of Apple, I’ll be leaving my laptop at home. I’ll be off the Internet, except to communicate through my mobile device. Regular posting will resume over the weekend, so stay tuned.