MOTT HAVEN--The chickens that live in Brook Park, a community garden in the South Bronx, have a hectic daily schedule. They feed, nap, have a snack from the vegetable garden, lay eggs and take visits from neighbors and local school children.
And then they tweet about it.
The birds have been living at Brook Park since last September. Coop coordinator Lily Kesselman decided to boost their social media presence as a way to connect with other chicken farmers in the city, and to better publicize the health benefits that come with urban farming.
"I like to showcase the hens. It's definitely an educational project — we don't just do it for the eggs," said 40-year-old Kesselman. "This is the poorest congressional district in the United States, and the childhood obesity rates are really high. So this is really a project to bring in kids, to get kids interested in health, get them interested in urban agriculture and to get them to learn about food."
Kesselman, a professional photographer by day, uses the Brook Park Chickens blog and the @BronxChicks handle to post about community farming efforts in the Bronx and across the city, and to share photos of the chickens at roost, including a series of official headshots Kesselman snapped of each chicken, all of which all have names.
Their monikers—Calamady Jane, Mia Rosie, Lafayette and Leonarda, to name a few—were picked by donors as part of a fundraising campaign to raise money for hen food, where people got to name a chicken for a donation price of $50.
There’s Betsy, an all-white hen who’s considered the “show chicken” of the group because she’s the smallest and the easiest to hold, Kesselman said. The Brook Park Chickens are visited frequently by classes of school children who come to the park on field trips.
“Children are kind of natural caregivers, so they love to pick them up and they’re curious about them,” Kesselman said.
A first grade class visited the hens after they laid their first eggs last year, and one of the students mother’s said it was the first time her child really saw the connection between the bird and his breakfast.
“The mother said, ‘You know, my son didn’t know that eggs came from chickens, he thought they came from the store,’” Kesselman recalled. “This is sort of to help remove this space between people and food.”
The chickens came to Brook Park after the group applied for the City Chicken Project, a program run by the nonprofit Just Food which helps community and school gardens start their own chicken coop, providing the building materials and chicken-keeping training.
Kesselman and 13 other volunteers take turns caring for the hens, alternating shifts, which include watering and feeding the birds and then cleaning out their hen house twice a day.
As a trade off for their work, the group has access to farm-fresh eggs--each chicken lays about one a day. And since the Brook Park chickens' eat a lot of vegetable scraps from the garden, their eggs are as close to nature as you can get.
"These girls have a really great diet," Kesselman said, adding that locally grown eggs tend to be lower in cholesterol than commercial brands.
"They taste completely different than what you buy in the store," she said. "They taste amazing."