I'm not a hippie but…

I own a terrarium


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Today I swapped poo for food… and it just made sense.

Friday 6th November marks a historic day for me. Today I swapped poo for food… and it just made sense.

Recently a fantastic Facebook group has popped up servicing my local region, and I truly can’t believe something like this hasn’t existed until now.

BarterEconomy Canberra offers members a platform to exchange goods and services, exclaiming:

“This group is for backyard growers and makers who want to exchange their excess produce with other growers and makers.”

The rules? No money can change hands.

“Is it the middle of tomato season and your knee deep in tomatoes? Swap them for someone who has too many jalapenos! Got backyard chooks and sick of eating omelettes five days a week? Swap some of those excess eggs for a jar of home made pickles!”

I’m immediately drawn to this concept in the same way I am the Amish lifestyle (…but it’s so much easier to join this Facebook group than the Amish community). This is how shit used to be done before some total arsehat went and invented money!

Back in the day everyone had a job contributing something to society and would exchange their offerings for those of another in order to procure goods and services.

Then money came along and turned the world all topsy-turvy and make-no-sensey and now you can become one of the world’s most powerful people simply by making a poor quality sex tape. Back in the day all that sex tape would have fetched was a handful of tomatoes and some goat’s cheese at most!

These days we all still have ‘jobs’, but many of them seem kind of unnecessary to the running of an efficient society, and everyone earns this ‘money’ crap in random amounts which seldom seem to correspond to their tangible contribution to the community.

The beauty of a barter economy is we all just contribute something we think is needed, then swap it for things we need ourselves. Everyone wins and nobody ends up a rich twat!

It’s a beautiful system of organic supply and demand which encourages community participation and engagement, basic cooperation and a shared sense of responsibility. In this disconnected world we live in, a barter economy reengages people with people!

One of the things my little hobby farm produces (without much effort from me, I must say) is alpaca poo. They do it often, they do it for free and they even do it in neat little piles.

Today I swapped two piles of poo for 2kgs of broadbeans, handfuls of parsley, a bucket of blackberries and a redcurrant bush.

Let me just repeat that – In a barter economy, I am able to use piles of shit to feed my family. 

… Proving once and for all that money ain’t shit!

Because a world where you can use poo in place of money is a world I want to live in.

Because a world where you can use poo in place of money is a world I want to live in.

Fresh (and free) broadbeans and parsley - Om nom nom!

Fresh (and free) broadbeans and parsley – Om nom nom!

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Cruelty is in the eye of the beholder

Chickens seem to be all the rage right now.

As I approach 30 my Facebook feed contains steadily fewer heavily-filtered images of girlfriends dressed to the nines, and is increasingly filled with pictures of wrinkly new babies and chicken coop build projects.

Do I intentionally surround myself with budding young farmers? No. These are everyday city folk in a variety of living arrangements all finding a way to make space for their own living, breathing in-house egg factories.

Urban chooks: Cool or cruel? 

One such chicken coop build project recently took place at my sister’s house. After seeing a 10 minute ‘DIY chicken coop’ segment on Better Homes and Gardens, my super handy brother-in-law threw together his own version. It took him all of one weekend and comes complete with automatic food and water dispensers. Handy people, eh? My biggest achievement this weekend was putting away my clean washing from last weekend!

As they say: ‘If you build it, they will come’. Before long, three happy hens were purchased and plonked into the fancy new digs. They looked delightful scratching around in the dirt, climbing the ramp to nest in their private boudoir and happily settling in on their perches.

But unlike chooks, time flies, and the ladies have now lived in their humble abode for months. I visited my sister and her feathered friends last weekend. There were the ladies, in the same place as they’ve ever been; scratching in the dirt, climbing up and down the ramp, sitting on their perches. And I found myself feeling sorry for them.

Surely they know there’s more to life! Don’t they feel trapped or bored or helpless?! SOMEBODY CALL PETA! THESE CHICKENS ARE BEING KEPT HOSTAGE IN 5-STAR ACCOMMODATION!!!

chicken coop bones chicken coop feed dispenser door

These chickens provide my sister’s family with a steady supply of three eggs per day, well and truly removing any need for her to purchase eggs. In fact, she struggles to keep up with supply.

It got me thinking: Why doesn’t everyone own a chicken? They are beyond easy to look after; Feed them, give them access to water and they’ll provide you with eggs and entertainment for the foreseeable future.

Obviously not everyone has a big glorious backyard suitable for keeping livestock. Imagine visiting a friend who lives in a tiny apartment with a 3 x 3 balcony. Imagine that half of that balcony was modified to make it home for a couple of chickens. A pallet of grass, a few sturdy plants, some inventive fencing – Voila! You’ve got yourself a tenth-storey hen house.

Don’t approve? Think that’s a little unnatural or unfair? I’d probably have the same initial reaction. But keep in mind that these apartment dwelling birds are providing their humans with a steady flow of eggs. That’s one less consumer of commercial caged or ‘free range’ eggs.

The alternative: Mass production

Ever had one of those ‘Bruce Almighty’ days where you think: ‘God is just a mean kid with a magnifying glass. And I’m the ant. He could fix my life in five minutes if He wanted to, but he’d rather burn off my feelers and watch me squirm.‘ On those days, you’ve likely had someone (perhaps your conscience) remind you that there are millions of people starving to death in third world countries, people being persecuted by their Governments, people fleeing their war-torn homelands in fear of their lives, and so on.

The message being: Comparatively, you’re life is a dream, so stop whining and start appreciating what you’ve got. Applying a similar comparison to the world of city slicker chickens, is the concept of urban chickens really so bad?

Seeing my sister’s chickens stuck in the same surroundings evoked a feeling of pity in me. However, for over 25 years of my life I purchased my eggs without giving much thought to where they came from.

You’ll notice I used inverted commas when using the term ‘free range’; That’s because it’s a fairly subjective term, NOT a literal one.

A chicken being kept in a commercial ‘free range’ environment lives in an industrial warehouse filled with around 1,000 other chickens. It is one of five chickens per square metre.

egg rules

To be defined as ‘free range’, they must have potential access to an open air area during the day. But if you were 1 chicken in 1,000, would you navigate your way through the crowd? Domestically, if you buy more than two chickens there is a real risk a pecking order will develop and one poor chicken will suffer terribly for it. How do you think those dynamics work in a tightly-packed group of 1,000 birds?

The hipster hen practicing small space living on the tenth-floor starting is starting to look pretty ethical to me.

My sister’s chickens are blessed with an entire square metre each in their perfectly clean and cruelty-free hen haven, built with love by a couple of animal lovers (do I smell hippies?).

So, if you want to bring egg salad to the picnic, should you need to ‘BYO chickens’?