One of my favorite things about Geneva is that many of its residents share—and attempt to live according to—a lovely ethics of community that deems helping one another a core value. Geneva Peeps, the local egg co-op and community garden in the western side of East Lakeview Neighborhood, beautifully exemplifies this ethics in action. Last week, The BG interviewed Jeff Henderson, founder of the co-op, at GP’s State Street 1.1 acre site to learn more about its history and current happenings, and to check out the digs of its chicken residents.
Jeff Henderson, founder of Geneva Peeps
Stepping carefully around the friendly hens that gathered around us, Tahlia and I asked Jeff about the origins of GP. Henderson founded GP in 2014 after having observed a farm having a similar egg co-op in the city limits of Portland, Oregon, where he lived for several years.
“When I came back to New York,” he says, “I thought it would be a fun community project to have an egg co-op in Geneva.”
Henderson envisioned great educational possibilities for the co-op.
“Lots of kids don’t know that eggs come from chickens, or that roosters are not necessary in the production of eggs. Hey, stop pecking me,” Jeff laughed as one persistent hen playfully nipped at his foot.
Pretty chicken!! Golden-laced Wyandotte.
So Henderson began to investigate how he might make his egg co-op dream happen. He learned that although municipal ordinances prohibit chickens within Geneva city limits, they are allowed in areas that are zoned “industrial.” He began looking for available land, and in 2013 came across the lot on State Street, which the city had put up for auction.
“To a lot of people, it doesn’t make any sense at all,” Jeff observes. “They think, ‘why would you want to have chickens? You could do so many things with this land.’”
And Henderson’s plan for the co-op did meet with some degree of pushback from a few neighbors, who claimed that the chickens would be noisy, that the coops would smell bad, and that their overall quality of home life would be diminished somehow by the presence of the chickens. Surprised to find Geneva Peeps the center of a local controversy, Henderson and the families who wanted to join the co-op fought to debunk their neighbors’ fears. If maintained well, they explained, chicken coops emit no smell, and they are not nearly as loud as the freight trains that pass along the edge of the property several times each day. The City of Geneva fought the creation of the co-op until it finally ran out of legal options to try and shut it down, so Geneva Peeps finally began to build the first coop on the property in the summer of 2014. Many additional families wanted to join, so they added second and third coops in the subsequent years.
A Rhode Island red hen on the move!
So despite some folks’ initial doubts, it is clear that Henderson and the GP families have done something remarkable with their land on State Street. Henderson led us around the site, which borders some of the oldest forest in Geneva, and introduced us to the chickens, along with a couple of outlier roosters. Today, in addition to the chicken coops, GP now features four rows of solar panels and 31 small community garden beds. The solar panels provide electricity for the coops and collect rain water. Henderson has ingeniously installed gutters along the bottoms of the solar panels to collect the rain water, which is then funneled into storage containers and eventually piped to the coops and to the garden. The site is thus a shining example not only of sustainable and eco-friendly living, but also of environmental ethics directed in the service of a community food project.
Solar panels provide electricity and collect rain water.
Chicken inspecting the water storage tank under one of the panels.
Water tanks that supply the garden beds.
The raised-bed garden plots, filled with top-quality soil from Sensenig’s, may be reserved by interested groups or individuals. Current gardeners include not only local families, but also 4-H groups, Girl Scout troops, the Geneva Women’s Association, and kids from Children’s Hour School at Faith Community Church. There is also a small stand where folks may leave extra veggies for anyone who wants them. GP has exceeded Henderson’s early goal to educate kids and adults about raising chickens. With the gardens and solar panels, it also teaches us about how to grow things, how electricity and solar heat work, and how community politics and economics shape land usage. Most important, GP shows what can be gained by people working together to care for one another, for nature, and for our neighborhoods.
Community garden plots.
Over 150 friendly chickens and a handful of roosters proudly preside over the site, though the roosters, and the first generation of chickens, who are now four years old and unable to produce eggs, will soon retire to a farm elsewhere for elderly poultry approaching their golden years. Meanwhile, some forty families care for the chickens in rotating shifts, during which they make sure that the chickens are fed, watered, and secure. In return, each family takes home whatever eggs are available, usually about 18 eggs per shift. Everyone shares both the responsibilities and the benefits. It’s a system that works for everyone.
Chicken humor decorating the coop.
A recently laid egg (in red light).
A rare two-headed chicken resides at GP!
In addition to their regular chicken feed, families bring their fruit and vegetable scraps for the compost bin, and local businesses also contribute to the nourishment of these beautiful birds. Lake Drum Brewing donates its spent grains, and the chickens love to munch on these. Wegman’s on Hamilton also donates food and vegetable scraps that the store would otherwise send to a composting company. The chickens sure do love watermelon, but they turn up their beaks at potatoes. Apparently starchy tubers are not their favorite snack! Generally, though, they consume most fruit and vegetable scraps so fast that it doesn’t really have the chance to turn into compost.
Hens chow down in the composting bins.
Just look at their smiling little faces!
After our interview with Jeff, Tahlia and I returned to the site to take more photographs, and we met some folks tending their gardens. With them we also discussed the ethics of community that underlies GP, and we pondered the idea that every neighborhood in Geneva could, and maybe should, have its own community garden. We reflected on the many, many gifts that Geneva Peeps offers to Geneva. In an age where wall-building and self-interest are touted as legitimate political ends, GP reminds us that the very best human values aim instead to build bridges between diverse communities, and to unite residents in projects that affirm taking responsibility for their community. The BG applauds Geneva Peeps, and thanks Jeff Henderson for his vision.
Now, anybody got any good egg recipes to share??
Guess what? Chickenbutt! (Who doesn’t love a chickenbutt?)