The People’s Chickens: Squawking Soon in Cypress Hills

Residents are taking healthy, affordable food into their own hands

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Chicken coop in a vacant lot in East New York.
An overgrown vacant lot will soon turn into a vibrant chicken coop. (Photo by: Jaclyn Einis)

Over 100 vacant lots act as al fresco dumpsters in East New York. One such lot, too small to live up to its affordable housing zoning, will soon be a hotbed of healthy, affordable food.

Faced with a lack of accessible fresh food, East New Yorkers have taken matters into their own hands by turning waste into compost. Inspired by more than ten flourishing gardens that have popped up in nearby lots, Cypress Hills residents are building Pollos del Pueblo, or The People’s Chickens.

Supported by The People’s Food Project and Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, the coming chicken coop and nascent community garden are sourcing funds and volunteers via eco-crowd-resourcing platform Ioby.

Yanet Rojas, the project’s team organizer, came to New York thirteen years ago from Peru with years of community gardening under her shovel. Alongside her neighbors, Rojas is building a chicken coop and enclosed run for a brood of heirloom birds, plus 25 raised plant beds for the neighborhood and ten plant beds for schools. Children and teens will learn about plants and poultry care in the garden, and take home the skills to grow their own leafy greens.

When I visited, the group of volunteers ranged from young men to grandmothers who noted that the construction process had already brought them together as a community. They see this as one of the project’s key benefits: “We’ve come together doing something to benefit our children. We hope that with the chickens it will become a community gathering place all year round.”

The volunteers are learning about each other’s heritage as they plan to grow species from their native lands. Rojas, for one, is excited to grow aji panca, a Peruvian pepper. “These pockets of nature bring us back to our roots,” she reflects.

The real buzz, however, is all about the chickens. The children are eager for their new pets and everyone in the neighborhood seems hungry for organic eggs. The Pollos del Pueblo are set to arrive at their new home in early June. Rojas smiles with anticipation: “We’re counting eggs, but we don’t have the chickens yet!”

Images courtesy of Jaclyn Einis.