Editor's note: I had the pleasure of interviewing 12-year old Orren Fox of Newburyport, MA who happens to keep 25 backyard chickens. In this interview, you'll learn about how this aspiring NBA player is also an inspiring, eloquent kid who is a notable leader in sustainable agriculture on the ground and online on Twitter and through his blog. You'll meet Snowcap, Macaroni, Butterscotch, Blueberry and all of the other animals he takes care of. Orren can be found on Twitter @happychickens and @happyhoneybees.
Sarah Newman: How old are you and where do you live?
Orren Fox: My name is Orren Fox (there is a fox in the hen house) and I live North of Boston in the littlest city in Massachusetts, Newburyport.
I am 12 years old and will be 13 at the end of December.
What grade will you be in this fall and where do you go to school and camp?
I will be in the 7th grade this fall at Glen Urquhart School in Beverly Farms, Ma. It is a great school, we have a huge greenhouse (I think it is 7,000 feet!) where we work with The Food Project to grow food for food pantries, and we also now have bees. You can see some blog entries here
My camp is named Kieve, in Darmiscotta, Maine. We don't have chickens, but I am hoping that I have convinced them to start a garden for next year. I love it there because we are outside the whole time.
When did you develop an interest in chickens and why?
I'm not really sure. One day I went to my babysitter's Lisa, nephew's house and I saw his chickens. I was immediately interested in them. So we got every book available about chickens, I read them all! Then my neighbor Dorothy, who loves animals as much as I do, mentioned Julie and her farm, Oak Valley Farm. I went and met Julie then started working with her on her farm. She had many many chickens and I took care of them on the weekends. I loved it. I loved being at the barn. I loved hearing them talk. Actually I felt like I knew what each bird was talking about. I know this sounds odd. She has hens, roosters, ducks, turkeys, goats, and horses. She lives right next to a big beautiful hay field and peach trees. Then that spring of 2007 she said to me one weekend "I think you should have your own chickens". I think it might have been one of the best days of my life. I was so excited to go pick out my baby chicks. I couldn't stand being at school because I wanted to be with them. That year I also joined the American Poultry Association and I earned my Coop Tender Certificate and am trying now to earn my Flock Tender Certificate.
How many chickens do you keep and what are their names?
I have 25 chickens, 3 Call ducks and a rescue bunny. I have the Call Ducks because the Animal Rescue lady comes to me first when she rescues birds. Someone had gotten these sweet birds for Easter then realized they didn't have a reasonable place for them to live. I can't figure out why people do that. Crazy as far as I'm concerned. We don't have a pond for them buy I always fill a baby pool with water for them.
Buff Brahma - Marshmallow
White Brahma - Paprika
Silver laced Wyandotte - Macaroni
Barred Rock - Snowcap
White Silkie (Rooster) - Frankie
Black Sex-link (Rooster) -
White Cochin Bantams - Sugar
Snowy Call (male)(Duck) - Mitler
White Japanese - Sushi
Buff Sex-link - Josephine
Mallard Calls (1boy, 1girl)(Ducks) - Bossy and Bossy!
Black Giants - Plum
New Hampshire Reds - Fluffy and Biscuit
Blue Silkies Bantams - Ilya and Rondo
Black Cochin Bantams - Lola, Coca
White-Crested Black Polishes - Manya, Yanya
Aracaunas - Cheesecake, Butterscotch
Blue Cochins - Sassy, Blueberry, Peach and Peanut
How much work is it per day and what exactly do you need to do daily?
I go to the barn every day to water, feed and be with my birds. They always greet me when I arrive and they are very conversational. I often let them out of their coop to roam the field, but I have to be very very cautious about foxes and hawks. Their coop is both inside and outside so they have access to sun, perching, dust baths, and the weather of the day. I feed my birds' great food, mealworms, wheatgrass and weeds from when I weed my garden. They are happy birds, they told me.
Then aside from going to the barn I do quite a bit of research because I am working towards my Flock Tender Certification from the American Poultry Association. I am most interested in Heritage breeds. I am also hoping I can get on the Humane Society Teen Advisory Board. They said I could when I turn 13. I want to change the way egg layers and meat birds are treated! I hope I can. I blog and twitter (@happychickens and @happyhoneybees) about chickens and am the Assistant Organizer of the Boston Backyard Poultry Meetup.
I also take my birds to the farmers market so people can see and meet my birds. I think most people when they buy chicken at the market don't ever think about the animal. I want to help people understand that they can make a big difference by choosing to buy ethically treated animals. 99cent eggs are from tortured birds. Cheap food has no value. Also my birds are very social, they love being at the market.
I have one silkie rooster who is so chatty at school, he loves my class. So far several of my friends have become vegetarians after I introduced them to my birds and tell them how most meat birds and egg layers are raised. Once I took my bantam white cochin, Sugar, to school however and when I got to school one of her nails was bleeding on her foot, so I took her to the school nurse.... the nurse kind of laughed and said she had never treated a hen but that she would put a little Band-Aid on it.
Oh, I forgot also raised 500$ for Heifer International - I designed some T-shirts with FREE RANGE KID on the front, ALL of the money goes to Heifer International flocks of chickens. Here is what they write - "With gifts of livestock and training, Heifer International has helped more than 7 million families move closer to self-reliance. Chickens boost family income and nutrition worldwide, providing a steady supply of protein-rich eggs. A single egg provides the daily requirement for a 3 year old child". I have been to Africa and I know this would help kids my age.
What is the most surprising thing you've learned about raising chickens?
I think people would be surprised how social and smart these birds are, as I was, and it might make them think about how the meat they are eating was raised. I know that seems kind of gruesome. But, if you know an animal understands, thinks, talks, goes broody then I think you might want to make sure they didn't suffer their entire life just so you can have cheap chicken niblets. I am a committed vegetarian. I understand when someone else wants to eat meat; I'm just not going to. I tell people who eat chicken please consider eating locally raised, happy chickens (ethically raised). Make the effort to know that your food was ethically raised and slaughtered.
How did you develop an interest in bees?
Hmmm. I don't quite remember. I think I found out about Colony Collapse Disorder and realized all the work bees do and wanted to help. I am going to go to Bee School this winter then get my first hives next spring. We have a beehive at school, I love it. Bees are so cool. For summer reading I am reading 3 books on bees. Believe it or not I'm reading them on my kindle.
Do you keep bees?
Only at school. I will have them at the barn next spring. I already have a really nice woman who said she would sell my honey at her business, The Wenham Tea House. I think I will name it HappyHoneyBees.
How did you develop an interest in sustainable food issues?
In 5th Grade we have to do a big presentation to the school. We all pick a subject then have a night of presentations. Guess what mine was? Yup, Chickens. For that presentation I did tons of research about Heritage Breeds and Industrial Chicken Farming. It totally pissed me off. Then I wrote a "persuasive essay" for English last year called "Meet your Meat", I posted it on my blog and within 8 hours the Head of Poultry Services in Canada had responded, wanting to "correct" some of my facts. I posted his response to my essay on my blog and did more research. He was literally right but ethically wrong. He said the "chickens" don't have their beak trimmed, for example, well that's true for meat birds but not egg hens. I learned a lot from that and wanted to tell people what I had found out.
Aside from raising chickens, how else do you try to lead a sustainable food lifestyle?
I guess I'm not really sure what that means. I have convinced my parents to be vegetarians (it wasn't hard). My dad is a Champion Triathlete so he eats TONS of local spinach now for power and protein! I also have a big garden at the barn - fennel, heirloom tomatoes, bok choy, arugula, basil, weeds and more weeds. I feed the weeds to my hens. To me sustainable means something can continue. I can't imagine a non-sustainable food lifestyle...I hope that makes sense.
How has your lifestyle affected the people around you?
My mom and dad, neighbor and friends at school are vegetarians, or will certainly NOT eat industrially raised hens/eggs. My brother still eats meat (I think so he can be different from me) but we as a family, of course, only buy happy meat. My mom and I went to visit our local farm to make sure the hens and cattle were ethically raised and learned a ton from Farmer Mike. I also sell my eggs to neighbors and friends. They love them and will never go back to industrial raised eggs! Thank goodness. I just try and tell everyone to know as much as they can about where their food comes from.
What did you think of Food, Inc?
AWESOME!! I saw it for a second time last night. Each time I learn something more! I want to show it at school. I bet it would piss some people off, but that's ok. None of it surprised me because I have been learning about all of this for 2 years. I have all of Mr. Salatin's books and wish I had the opportunity to pasture raise my hens in an EggMobile. I love the way Food, Inc. ends - you get to vote 3 times a day and wit every bite. I always say this to people.
I think eating locally is really important because you will get the most nutrition from your food, supporting your local farmers is the only way to keep them in business, and it is the environmentally responsible thing to do. I also think equally important is ethical eating. If the animals you choose to eat weren't raised ethically I don't think people should eat it. Most eggs in the supermarket are from hens that were truly tortured. I'm not into that. I think we can change that.
How has being on twitter and having a blog affected your sustainable food life?
It has been amazing. First to have the Head of Poultry from Canada commenting on my blog let me know I have a voice that someone is listening. I also have lots of support from my blog and twitter; people seem kind of interested that I am doing this. I have learned a ton from @jambutter, @civileater @helpsavebees @chickensrule @backyardpoultry @mypetchicken @takepart @agchick , @zacharycohen @sarahnow . I even did a twitter-view (interview on twitter) with the Chicken Whisperer. It was cool. I also did a twitter poll asking people if they could taste the difference between different kinds of eggs. Recently I posted something on my blog about Monsanto and "anonymous" responded suggesting I didn't have all the info. Interesting, I think it was someone from Monsanto.
What do you want to do next?
I want to focus on bees. I have a lot to learn. Also I want to play in the NBA.
I noticed some different people featured on your blog, such as Will Allen and Wendell Berry. Who are your mentors in the sustainable food movement?
I like to follow @JamButter on Twitter and @civileater, and then outside of twitter I try and read a ton. I've read the Food, Inc. book, Marion Nestle and Jane Goodall books. Now I am reading two bee books. Not really related but interesting I read All Creatures Great and Small. I loved it. I have on my Kindle Animal, Vegetable, Miracle but haven't read it yet.
Are there other kids at your school who are interested in these issues? I'm not sure. I have a bunch of friends who are vegetarian and vegan and because we have a big big greenhouse we talk a lot about food and growing food. I don't think we call it A Sustainable Lifestyle though, we do it cause we think it is right, it just makes sense. Know what I mean? We can't imagine a non-sustainable lifestyle...
Why do you think kids today are eating lots of junk food and what solutions do you have to solve this problem?
It is fast and always available. I think it is convenient. Also they are thinking about other things, not what they are eating or where it came from. I think soda is death in a bottle, its kinda like smoking for kids - addicting and it will make you sick. Weird that it is in school cafeterias, that doesn't make sense. What solutions do I have? I'm not sure. I guess doing what I am doing speaking out about it, letting my friends know what I have learned. We kids don't want that crap. We don't want to eat animals that have been tortured, we don't want to drink soda that has poison (aspartame) in it, we don't want milk that is filled with antibiotics --- THAT isn't sustainable.... and if it isn't sustainable, we won't have our future?
How do you think the sustainable food movement can attract the support of more young people, such as yourself?
I think Sustainable is kind of confusing word for me. If something weren't sustainable why would we do it? So how do we get kids involved? Well I think kids are really smart. We get it. If we know that all the GMO corn (high fructose corn syrup) is bad for us, we will think twice about it. If we know the animals are tortured, we will think twice about it. We will also tell our parents, and ask them to not buy it. I think kids are teaching their parents about recycling. We don't even think about it, we expect for their to be recycling bins next to trash bins. Are parents weren't raised that way, so we are teaching them.
We also compost at school, so kids are used to it. It is just what you do. So I bet more families are composting at home because the kids know how to do it and expect that their families would do it.
What do you like to do when you're not taking care of chickens, bees or blogging?
I play the piano and guitar, I am not very good but I like it. I think I will switch to acoustic this year. I also do archery, snowboarding, skateboarding, and basketball. I am really into sports and following teams. My teams are the Boston Red Socks, Boston Celtics, NE Patriots and University of Michigan Football. OH! I also do h o m e w o r k...
What do you want to do when you grow up?
Play in the NBA and have a big farm.
What are your favorite foods?
Scrambled in the pan eggs and chocolate and green beans from my garden. I know that sounds weird for a kid to say.
What's your favorite movie this year?
Twilight.....kidding. Food, Inc.
Sarah's Social Action Snapshot originally appeared on Takepart.com
Follow Sarah Newman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/SarahNow