Five years ago, Benjamin Stein and his wife Arin Kramer received a package at their Boerum Hill brownstone labeled "live birds."
In it were three full-sized chickens they had ordered from a hatchery in the Midwest. A very confused-looking postman handed over the box, and thus began the Steins' pursuit of urban chickening.
The local food-sourcing movement is hardly new. But as more people become conscious of where their food comes from, New Yorkers are taking matters into their own hands, converting backyards and rooftops into compact urban farms.
For Stein, who is also a board member for the nonprofit ioby, raising chickens is about being more sustainable and utilizing the little green space his family has access to in their small brownstone backyard.
"This is a huge trend for people," Stein explained. "Doing more gardening and raising chickens at home is just another example of people wanting to be more connected with the land in an urban environment."
Urban chickening is also commonplace among immigrants who come from countries where at-home poultry farming is a major food source, like Haiti.
"Not only is it a good way to connect with nature, but a way to connect with their own culture," Elizabeth Bee Ayer, who runs a chicken apprentice program in Crown Heights, told Metro.
For Stein and his family, who now have five chickens, the upkeep of the animals is about the same as a pet hamster. They must be fed each day, and their coop must be cleaned about once a week. They collect between 10 to 20 eggs every week.
For many urban chickeners, the birds become family pets. Stein's chickens are affectionately named after the mothers of his friends: Sandy, Shirley, Rosie, Rhonda and Rosaline.
Urban beekeeping has become another popular rooftop or backyard activity, especially since it was legalized in 2010. But honey harvesters say it's a much bigger commitment than most people realize.
Bay Ridge resident and beekeeper Jimmy Johnson told Metro that although beekeeping is a hot urban trend, its popularity could backfire.
"Every little hipster is keeping a beehive, and it's all going to go down, because it's more work than even I realized," Johnson said. "In the city, there is only so much pollen and nectar, and with the spike of hives, there isn't the nectar to support that."
For those who are willing to make the commitment, beekeeping is about more than just tens of pounds of honey per year. Ayer, who keeps rooftop bees collectively with the residents of her Brooklyn brownstone, said it provides a sense of community while educating the neighborhood.
"People love it," she said. "Kids want to come up and see them, our neighbors love the honey, and many people want to learn about it."
Learn about urban farming
Beekeeping lesson and lunch
The Farm on Adderley, 1108 Cortelyou Rd, Brooklyn,
Monday, July 16, 10 a.m.
$25 for adults, $20 for children
ust Food's Introduction to Urban Chicken Keeping
Imani Garden, Dean Street and Schenectady Ave, Brooklyn, Thursday, July 12, 5:30 p.m., free
BK Farmyard's Extending Your Late Summer Harvest workshop, 600 Kingston Ave, Brooklyn, Saturday, July 7, 2 p.m., free
"I think people find ways, living in the city, to be in touch with the source of their food and have a connection with nature," Ayer said.
Although urban farmers report a growing interest from New Yorkers wishing to learn how to keep bees, chickens or gardens, there is still a massive amount of underutilized green space in the city.
Urban chicken farmers often order their birds from hatcheries. Eggs, chicks, pullets (young hens) or full-grown chickens can all be shipped through the mail. Breed is an important factor depending on whether the birds will be raised for their eggs or as pets. Elizabeth Bee Ayer warns against keeping chickens on rooftops, because of the lack of soft ground for them to peck. Instead, she recommends small backyards or community gardens.
Live bees can be ordered from an apiary, or bee yard. It costs about $350 to get started, according to Ayer. An urban beekeeper needs to order tools, a hive, about 10,000 live bees and a queen - shipped in a separate box, often with a couple assistant bees.