Every Saturday we feature a fun and/or educational activity you can try at home or in the classroom. Since this Monday is World Habitat Day: Changing Cities, Building Opportunities, I thought I’d share this city-building activity.
The idea of World Habitat Day, according to the United Nations website UN-Habitat, is to think about our towns and cities, everyone’s right to adequate shelter, and to remind us, the world, of our responsibility for the future of the human habitats. With the theme Changing Cities, Building Opportunities, UN-Habitat is emphasizing the need to plan cities better. Unplanned growth of cities can lead to chaotic development and urban sprawl. When planned well, cities offer opportunity.
So, when you plan your city, keep this in mind. Are there enough places for people to work? Enough houses for people to live? Enough stores? Roads to get from home to work? Are there any parks for people to play or relax? Transportation? Think about your plan, and write down your ideas. What would you add or take away to make it better?
Once your plan is complete, you are ready to build. You’ll need the following materials:
- Crayons or markers
Photo credit: www.crayola.com
- Construction Paper
- Small cardboard boxes
Gather several small cardboard boxes. Cut construction paper the right sizes to cover the sides of each box. Draw windows, doors, and other features for each house or building. Glue the construction paper to the boxes. Arrange the boxes on top of the larger piece of cardboard and design your street scenes. Draw in streets, sidewalks, intersections, parking lots, parks, etc., to complete your city. You can even use clay to insert people into your city.
Take a photo of your completed city and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll share it here.
You can find this activity and more at www.crayola.com.
With so many urban gardens blooming these days, is a big push for urban livestock
far behind? It’s certainly been done before: Sacred cows roam the streets of Delhi, goats loiter along the trash heaps in Khartoum, guinea pigs hop around their pens in downtown Lima.
And we know the movement has strong supporters in the United States, with chickens in plenty of backyards and advocacy groups calling for the loosening of ordinances to allow miniature goats within the city limits. It’s a swell hobby with loads of entertainment value, but some people think it could be more.
Barring disaster of World War II proportions, it’s not likely that city dwellers with backyard menageries will displace feedlots as our main source of animal protein. But raising animals for meat in the city could well continue becoming more popular as people learn more about the perks. Urban livestock earn their keep by eating food scraps, weeds and other waste that would otherwise be trucked off to a landfill. They provide fertilizer for gardens, and since they’re raised within the community, these animals lack the mystery meat mystique of cellophane-wrapped packages from the grocery store.
It’s hard to imagine pygmy goats ambling down the Magnificent Mile in Chicago or tilapia swimming around in city fountains. But perhaps sharing our living spaces with our food sources would make the lives of our livestock a bit more comfortable. June Komisar, an advocate of urban agriculture, said animal welfare supporters are likely to advocate raising and processing livestock close to home, since shortening the distance between where animals are raised and where they’re slaughtered is an important element in improving those animals’ quality of life.
Would you pay $2 a day to let a pair of sheep mow your lawn? If you live in Oberlin, Ohio, you now have the option! With the economy what it is, folks are getting realllly creative to earn their livelihoods, even here in the United States. This NY Times article highlights an urban sheep shepherd who rents out his sheep as a lawn care service, another man you can pay to build a backyard chicken coop and teach you to care for your very own poultry, and several other cases where people are turning to creative urban agriculture.
Goats are pretty handy, too. Though they won’t actually eat tin cans, they will eat kudzu, otherwise known as “the weed that ate the South.” In Knoxville, Tennessee, these browsing ruminants have been put to work eating kudzu on farms and along highways since at least 2003.
Happy World Egg Day!
We talk a lot about how chickens (and ducks and geese) and their eggs can have a great impact on Heifer project participant families. But you don’t have to live on a farm in Honduras (or even Indiana) to see the benefits of raising domestic birds for their eggs.
|Purslane in her chicken tractor
In fact, my family has a tiny flock of chickens in our backyard. In Little Rock, Arkansas. In my neighborhood, this is actually not that uncommon (admittedly, most of the other chicken-raising families are friends of ours).
The decision to take on an animal, whether a pet or livestock, should be made after careful consideration and even research. The same is true for backyard chickens. We decided to begin raising chickens for several reasons: we want to have eggs from animals we know are healthy and well taken care of, we want to reduce our “footprint” by having a source of food right out our back door, and we want our daughter to know where some of her food comes from.
Here are a few things to consider if you’re thinking about raising chickens in an urban setting.
- Do you like eggs? This seems obvious, but if you really only sort-of like them, they won’t be worth the investment of time and money. If you do a lot of baking, however, these are the freshest eggs you’ll ever have.
- Is your yard/situation appropriate for chickens? Our flock started out in a bottomless pen (sometimes called a chicken tractor), but now they’re totally free range, which wouldn’t be possible without our six-foot security fence (or with bloodthirsty dogs). Our friends down the street have a chicken coop.
- Are you even allowed to have chickens? The best way to find out is to check the municipal code for your city. The requirements in Little Rock are that chickens must have a minimum of three square feet of floor space per bird over four months of age, they must be kept at least five feet from the owner’s residence, and they must be kept at least 25 feet from the nearest neighbor. Pretty laid back. Just across the river in North Little Rock, however, you have to have a permit, and the minimum distance from neighboring houses is 75 feet (this was a deal-breaker for a friend of mine thinking of starting a flock).
- How many do you want? Chickens lay an egg about every 24 to 26 hours. We started out with four chickens, and for the three of us, we were up to our eyeballs. It’ll make you pretty popular with your friends and colleagues if you’re always giving away eggs. We now have two gals, and this seems to be a good number for us to maintain. We always have eggs when we want them, and though we aren’t giving them away by the dozen anymore, we can generally be relied on for friends in a pinch.
A common misconception is that you have to have a rooster, or else your hens won’t lay eggs. This is not true. You need a rooster if you want your eggs to hatch into baby chicks. But if you’re raising chickens in your backyard so you can eat the eggs… you probably don’t want that to happen. Many cities won’t allow the noisy boys anyway.
If your’e interested in chickens, here are a few things to check out:
It’s the brainchild of the U.N.’s International Strategy for Disaster Reduction. This years theme: My City Is Getting Ready! (The exclamation point is theirs, not mine.) In light of the earthquake in Haiti, flooding in Pakistan and Poland, and other natural disasters affecting cities this year, their choice of themes seems rather prescient.
Photo from Flickr/mamichan. Creative Commons.
The most recent NYTimes magazine had a piece
about Alexandra Reau, a Michigan teen who turned her family’s backyard into a mini-farm:
“Now in its second season, her Garden to Go C.S.A. (community-supported agriculture) grows for 14 members, who pay $100 to $175 for two months of just-picked vegetables and herbs. While her peers are hanging out at Molly’s Mystic Freeze and working out the moves to that Miley Cyrus video, she’s flicking potato-beetle larvae off of leaves in her V-neck T-shirt and denim capris, a barrette keeping her hair out of her demurely made-up eyes. Who says the face of American farming is a 57-year-old man with a John Deere cap?”
Should we promote projects like this as an alternative to the typical teen summer job at the mall? What other ideas do you have for a productive summer?
The Chicago Tribune has a story out today about how a few new farmers markets in low-income and ethnic communities are struggling. “They’ve learned that offering fresh produce and educating people about the environmental advantages of locally grown food is not necessarily enough to sustain a farmers market,” reporter Kristen Mack wrote.
Organizers of these markets, set up in working-class neighborhoods and “food deserts” where healthy food is nearly impossible to find, are trying out lots of tricks to get some staying power. Some of them are accepting food stamps, some are opening on Sunday rather than Saturday to catch the church crowd. Vendors have learned that exotic produce doesn’t move like the fruits and vegetables people already know how to cook. Hopefully they’ll pick up a few more tricks so they can stay in business and keep fresh, local foods available in communities that wouldn’t have access to them otherwise.
According to a story in the NYTimes, vegetable gardens at workplaces are making a comeback.
As companies have less to spend on raises, health benefits and passes to the water park, a fashionable new perk is emerging: all the carrots and zucchini employees can grow.
Carved from rolling green office park turf or tucked into containers on rooftops and converted smoking areas, these corporate plots of dirt spring from growing attention to sustainability and a rising interest in gardening. But they also reflect an economy that calls for creative ways to build workers’ morale and health.
Photo from Flickr/Mike Mertz (Creative Commons)