Urban Chicken Farming


Two very curious chickens peck at my camera

This past Saturday, the Baltimore Food Makers held their monthly potluck in Northeast Baltimore at the home of an urban chicken farming couple. Our hosts distilled a lifetime of farming know-how into a short tour of their backyard chicken coop, and fielded questions about their three hens, poultry health, nutrition, and productivity. Apparently, three hens can produce about seven eggs a week this time of year. When asked how their neighbors liked living near chickens, they said most were agreeable. One neighbor was leery of living near chickens, but after receiving eggs as gifts he apparently changed his tune and now wants to bird-sit when they are away on vacation.

I was excited to see some of my Baltimore neighbors obviating the poultry industry by raising their own hens for eggs. As this was my first encounter with urban chicken farming I wanted to learn about the Baltimore City ordinance allowing chickens, which reads:

[Baltimore City Health Code, Title 2, 2-106; Title 10, Subtitles 1 and 3]


1. No person may own, keep, or harbor any chickens without:

a. Obtaining a permit from the Bureau of Animal Control; and

b. Register with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, Domestic Poultry and Exotic Bird Registration Division.

2. No more than 4 chickens of the age of 1 month may be kept.

3. All chickens must be confined at all times to a movable pen.

a. No pen may be closer than 25 feet to any residence.

b. Each pen must be kept clean, free of all odors and materials that can attract rodents.

c. Each pen must be moved frequently to minimize turf destruction and the build up of manure borne pathogens such as coccidiosis and roundworm.

d. Pens with feed boxes and nest boxes must allow 2 square feet per hen.

4. The chickens must be provided with shade during warm weather.

5. Potable water and proper feed must be made available.

6. All chickens must be provided with access to a well-constructed shelter that provides suitable protection from inclement weather.

7. All chickens must be afforded veterinary care if they are known or suspected to be sick or injured.

For more information about urban bird farming in Baltimore, visit the Charm City Chickens, or for general information see any of the great blogs/web sites (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc) dedicated to this endeavor.

Dave Love

Baltimore Food Makers potluck

On the recommendation of a friend, I had to good fortune to attended the Baltimore Food Makers monthly potluck this Saturday to share home-grown, home-preserved and home-made food with a group of ~30 “food makers.”  Before eating we all gathered around the spread of food and each maker discussed with zeal his or her dish– covering the smallest details about prep, food sourcing, and questions from the crowd.   As the discussion of each dish drew to a close I felt a collective sigh as we acknowledged the embodied time and love poured into the food.  I eagerly watched as pickled watermelon rind, cured duck and beef, bison jerky, bbq tempeh, cornbread, black-eyed peas, and other delicious dishes were uncovered the large dining room table.  My plate, below, was full of tasty bites in no time.


The Baltimore Food Makers is ~1 yr old group that provides a forum for sharing skills and resources about cooking, eating and farming for those in Baltimore.  They have a great list of local food sources, and an active google group with >100 members.  The theme of this potluck was “Meat / Faux-Meat — AKA Making do with Meat, Making do without.” To give more background, here is an excerpt from the potluck flyer:

When it comes to meat, there is even more of an incentive to make do with small amounts of it or none at all.  Meat is expensive, there are environmental implications to it on a large scale and there are easily debatable ethical implications to it as well.  Some of us choose to cut back on how much meat we eat, some of us find different places to purchase it from, and some of us choose to do away with it entirely.

This month’s potluck is about how you find creative ways of using meat, and/or how you use meat substitutes to take the place of meat.  On the carnivorous side, this might including stretching some very small amount of meat into a big dish, curing/smoking meat to preserve it and therefore make it last longer, using odd normally unused bits (i.e. Aliza’s chicken feet) or any other creative use of meat.  On the herbivorous side, for the vegetarians and vegans in the group, this might include uses of tofu, tempeh, seitan, TVP (I’ll never understand the branding department that came up with this name) or anything else that might be faux-meat.

…If you do bring a dish with meat, please make sure the meat was raised someplace where the animals are treated well (i.e. free-range, pasture/grass-fed or simply knowing the farmer who was involved and what the life of the animal was like).


Everybody that I talked to was friendly and inviting.  Conversions about our favorite recipes for fermented drinks were washed down with home-made sweet and dry cider, ginger beer, and kombucha.  After munching on vegan dark chocolate cake and a sliver of flan, I learned about curing meat in a make-shift basement drying rack.

We didn’t shy away from discussing the risks of curing and canning either, as I learned more about methods for preserving food through fermentation and canning in a high salt and low pH environment.  One disease that home canners/fermenters are at more risk for is botulism, a paralytic illness, caused by the toxin produced from a rod-shaped, anaerobic bacteria, Clostridium botulinum that is present in soil and can proliferate in non-refrigerated, perishable foods.  Foodborne botulism  can be dangerous for infants eating home-canned baby food (Armada et al., 2003).   Ways to inhibit C. botulinum while home-canning food are by controlling pH (pH <4.5) and heat pasteurizing food  to >250 deg F in a pressure cooker for 20 min (CDC).

I’m looking forward to the next Food Maker potluck, and sharing some of my own safely-canned spicy green beans, kimche (fermented cabbage), and idli (steamed, fermented dal cakes).   I’m excited to continue learning from others who have many more years experience farming and cooking.   With the Baltimore Food Makers, eating delicious food is easy– but with the right mix of regional ingredients and community, sharing a meal is an incredible way to re-build our local food systems from the ground up.

– Dave Love