Expanding Greenfield’s chicken community

  • Members install an electric fence at the Cheapside Community Egg Share, which is between Washington and Deerfield streets. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Coop and fence finished. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • The finished coop and fence. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • The first six chickens. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • The first six chickens. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • Left to right: Miss Ohio, Opal, Jemma, Pauline, Romy, Ruby Contributed photo

  • Marie-Françoise Hatte's first egg from the coop. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Chickens at the Cheapside Community Egg Share. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Chickens Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • Gretchen and Robyn finish assembling the shed Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • A view inside the coop. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Chickens at the Cheapside Community Egg Share. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Cheapside Community Egg Share Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • A sign for the Cheapside Community Egg Share. Contributed photo

  • Cheapside Community Egg Share Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte—

  • Cheapside Community Egg Share Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

  • Five different cover crops to stabilize the slope and improve the soil. Contributed photo/Marie-Françoise Hatte

For the Recorder
Published: 11/10/2020 1:23:08 PM

The new Cheapside Community Egg Share, situated between Washington and Deerfield streets in Greenfield, is a joyful story amid a challenging time.

“It’s the highlight of my year,” said Marie-Françoise Hatte. Earlier in the year, pandemic restrictions moved Hatte’s job at the University of Massachusetts Amherst to her home on Washington Street.

“All of a sudden, I’m alone most of the time,” she said.

A few months into the COVID-19 era, Hatte received an email from Otis Wheeler, Precinct 7 City Councilor, announcing the launch of Greenfield’s second chicken collective. The first began last year at the Pleasant Street Community Garden, which is behind the John Zon Community Center. Both coops began thanks to the efforts of Andrea Cohen-Kiener, who, in addition to her duties as rabbi of Temple Israel, participates in many projects related to agriculture, community building and soil health.

Cohen-Kiener says the project would not exist without the guidance, materials, and problem-solving offered by local farmer Martin Anderton, whom she met while working on separate projects on the senior center property — she was working on the community garden and he was experimenting with placing chickens there. Both credit Senior Center Director Hope Macary with enthusiastic support.

“In 2019, we learned that the birds can be safe and well cared for, and that their manure amends our garden soil,” Cohen-Kiener said. “Pretty soon, we had a waiting list for the new egg co-op.”

Potential members are screened carefully, “given the responsibility involved in caring for animals,” she noted.

Deerfield Street neighbor Dorothea Sotiros, another collective member, is a longtime Greenfield resident who returned to the area in 2018 after a decade-long stint in her native California.

“I’ve raised chickens before, both here and in San Diego,” she said, “but it’s way more fun to do it in a group.”

She cites flexibility and camaraderie as two of the many plusses.

“The only drawback — and it’s a small one — is that it’s not right outside my door. I have to cross the street,” she said.

But it’s so worth it.”

Sotiros has helped to coordinate many sustainability projects over the years and isn’t afraid to dream big. Greenfield’s successful chicken collectives inspire her to imagine “a cooperative orchard, perhaps a community ‘food forest’ —yes, that’s a thing —where people work together in a multi-layered system to tend fruit trees, perennial vegetables, herbs, nut trees, maybe even a stand of sugar maples or trees producing shagbark hickory nuts,” she said.

Marie-Françoise Hatte shares the excitement, adding, “I’d wondered about establishing a community greenhouse on the grassy area down the street from my house,” she said. “When I heard about the chicken project, I was interested, but knew absolutely nothing about chickens. I’d never even handled a chicken in my life.”

Nonetheless, Hatte signed on for what’s been “quite the learning experience.” She calls it a huge success, despite a minor crisis early in her tenure: “I hurried (to the coop) after receiving a message: ‘Chicken on the loose!’ I started running back and forth after this chicken. I must’ve looked like I’d lost my mind.” During the chase, Hatte says she wondered, “Will it peck me? Can I pick it up?”

With a happy ending under her belt, Hatte noted, “I can walk down the street any time I want and see the chickens. I’m also greeting more neighbors, because it seems like people are going for more walks now that the chickens are here.” She calls it “an ideal situation. My responsibilities are not daily — just one day a week — and the biggest plus is Martin. If there’s ever a question or problem, we just call Martin.”

The brains of the collective

Egg collective members speak of Anderton with remarkable gratitude and respect. The founder of Urban Livestock Consulting Service, Anderton lives on three Leyden Road acres with his wife, Walker Powell, and their two young children. Anderton is the brains, brawn and guidance behind the collectives’ success. He, too, considers the project a saving grace in the pandemic era. Due to chronic Lyme disease, he’s immunocompromised and appreciates enjoyable activities that can happen safely. Themes of silver linings mirror Anderton’s own life.

“My sister and I are emblematic of good things coming from tragedy — in our case, two tragedies,” Anderton mused. “You could say I exist because of the Vietnam War and polio.”

His parents both use wheelchairs, and met at the University of Illinois when it was the only accessible higher education institution in the United States.

“My dad was shot in the back in Vietnam,” he said, “and my mom had polio. Without those two hardships, I wouldn’t be here.”

Anderton has a gift for rising above challenges and lifting community members with him. He moved to Western Massachusetts in 2008 and worked at various farming jobs for six years. Soon after the birth of their first child, however, Anderton and Powell wanted to explore “what else was out there.”

They travelled to Powell’s home state of Colorado and other destinations to “visit homesteads and ecovillages, and to learn about community and alternative lifestyles,” Anderton recalled, explaining that he earned his livelihood by “helping people set up raised garden beds, composting bins, goat sheds and beehives.”

Growing up in the Delmarva Peninsula (so named because it’s where Delaware, Maryland and Virginia meet), Anderton came of age overshadowed by the awareness that 15 percent of all chicken meat consumed in the U.S. was produced near his home, under the auspices of the Perdue chicken empire.

“Yeah, that Perdue,” he said with emphasis. “The company that famously treats chicken inhumanely, pumps chemicals into the ocean and poisons people.”

Anderton’s approach to animal husbandry is on the other end of the spectrum. He began raising chickens for eggs and meat along with business partner Patrick Benson. They added goats and sheep to the chicken endeavor and worked together for six years. Now Anderton’s own chicken business is thriving.

“Given everything that’s going on, people are more interested in local, organic meat, and are re-thinking supply chains and self-sufficiency,” he said.

When told of admiration expressed by egg collective members regarding his talents and efforts, Anderton replies, “Oh, that’s so nice, but honestly? I do this because I need it.” He adds, “Farming can be lonely. Farmers need family support and/or a tight-knit community. Our work is physically demanding and mentally taxing. We have to keep track of successions of crops and animals, infrastructure, planting, rearing, marketing, shipping, and more. It can be exhausting.”

Explaining why he devotes so much energy and resources to the two egg collectives, Anderton says, “I want to share this knowledge and develop sustainably-produced protein sources in ways that improve the soil and environment instead of causing harm. I like utilizing underused green spaces in town while providing protein sources for people, including low-income folks.”

The emotional impact

While he prizes agricultural aspects, Anderton also celebrates emotional impacts.

“Here’s my favorite story,” he said. “I was at the Pleasant Street Community Garden when a woman showed up with her young son. Let’s just say they were having a hard time. The mom seemed totally stressed out —she was yelling a lot —and not surprisingly, the kid seemed stressed, too.”

The boy began bullying other children at the garden, including Anderton’s two young sons.

“Then I got an idea,” Anderton said with a smile. “We’d just hatched three ducklings at the coop, and I put a tiny duckling — with gentle instructions — into the hands of the unsettled child. Instantly, the boy sat calmly and treated that duckling with utmost care and reverence. It changed everything.”

When asked about his vision for the future, Anderton notes, “I think about the future while living in the moment. I imagine green spaces in any given town taken up with small chicken cooperatives and community members coming together to learn as they’re surrounded by fruiting trees and vegetables. I can see such communities connected to each other. And I love knowing that people can work together to build the soil while cleaning the air and water.”

Eveline MacDougall, who has lived in Franklin County since 1987, started Greenfield’s Pleasant Street Community Garden in 1999. She coordinated the community garden for about 15 years and is now a member of the current project, but no longer serves in a leadership position.


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