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Like Roosters - History and Hope at Stonebridge Farm

STORYCENTER Blog

We are pleased to present posts by StoryCenter staff, storytellers, colleagues from partnering organizations, and thought leaders in Storywork and related fields.

Like Roosters - History and Hope at Stonebridge Farm

Ary Smith

Today's blog comes from our friend Kayann Short at Stonebridge Farm in Lyons, Colorado.  In addition to her work as a farm and writer, Kayann is a digital storytelling facilitator.  This June 23-25, StoryCenter will host our Introduction to Facilitation Institute Part 1 at Stonebridge Farm.  We have one space left - join us!

“I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up.”                      

--Thoreau, Walden

On a trip to Cuba a decade ago to research sustainable agriculture, I arrived too late at the guest hostel in the southern, rural part of the island to see much of the hills surrounding us with palm trees in a small valley. I got my chance early the next morning when I was awoken by not one, not two, but what sounded like hundreds of roosters crowing all around me. I dressed quickly and went outside to find that roosters roamed freely in this village, strutting as lustily as Thoreau’s chanticleer. Roosters are undoubtedly more intent on alerting other roosters to their territory than on signaling transformation, but in El Valle del Gallo, as I called this place, I witnessed the power of roosters crowing in unintentional symphony at the dawn of another day.

Recently I heard a story on NPR about two women who own a small boutique in a Tehran mall. The women’s best-selling items might not seem radical: shirts, mugs, and pillows with roosters on them. Yet these roosters feature feathers drawn from the words of a Persian poem celebrating a new dawn. Like an earlier t-shirt the women offered with the word onid, or hope, the rooster items draw mixed reactions. Some customers don’t believe there’s hope for their country right now, while others want to believe in a new future for Iran.

These women were hopeful because they remembered a more open time in their country; the items they sold offered the possibility of a brighter day. The women’s belief in renewal touched me because I, too, retain an optimism that often seems naïve in the face of the world’s problems, a hopefulness based on the idea of a better future once voiced by young people of the 60s and 70s. “All we need is love,” sang the Beatles, “Love is all we need.”

In the early 1970s, Stonebridge Farm on Colorado’s Front Range was home to a small commune of hippies. Living in a tipi, bus, barn, and old farmhouse, they raised cows and chickens and sold milk and eggs to the small town nearby. Their back-to-the-land experiment was short-lived, but their work contributed to the farm’s organic stewardship. Twenty years later, my partner and I started a community-supported farm on the same land. For the last 24 years, we’ve been building the kind of future we’d like to see, one based on a reciprocal relationship with the land and community-based support for organic food production.

Several years ago, a couple stopped by the farm and asked to have a look around. They’d been part of that early commune and were delighted that the farm still continued to thrive. “We didn’t know we were hippies,” they laughed, “until we read about them in a magazine and realized we were hippies too.” I was thrilled to hear that the Paul Butterfield Blues band had jammed in our living room. The couple showed us vestiges of the work they’d done and explained how the farm had been different back then.

Their visit reminded me of Stonebridge’s long history, first as beautiful, wild land along the foothills of the mountains, then as a byway traversed by the Ute Indians, and then as farmland cultivated organically. Many hands have contributed to the making of this farm.

We still raise chickens at Stonebridge, but since we don’t breed our own chicks, we don’t need rooster services. Last spring, we bought six chicks that were supposed to be egg-laying hens. From almost the beginning, I suspected that one of the blue-green egg layers would grow up to be a rooster. Its legs were longer and feathers more pronounced than the others; it looked regal, as if it were wearing a pair of 18th-century pantaloons and a tapestry jacket, just the type of braggart Thoreau had imagined. “ER-er-er-ERRR,” it crowed one day as I passed by the coop, making its intentions—and sex—clear. 

Luckily, our chicken-loving friends were willing to adopt a rooster to replenish their breeding stock. I love my chickens, but since hearing the story about the Iranian shopkeepers and their rooster t-shirts, I’ve gained a new appreciation for the louder fowl of the species. Metaphorically, we need roosters among us to arouse the sleeping into action, voice inconvenient truths, and lead the call for change.

Today, social networking provides roosters more perches from which to crow than in Thoreau’s time, while multi-modal practices like digital storytelling raise a chorus of voices enlivened by the power of diverse experiences. More roosts means more roosters crowing in concert about the big things we’re facing like climate crisis, violence in communities and nations, and an ever-deepening gap between the have-mores and the have-lessers. 

Roosters may be individualists, but with so many crowing at once, a collective message will surely rise above the cacophonous din. Like the roosters of El Valle del Gallo, we can raise our voices together with hope for change. By pairing personal acts with collaborative action, "hope" can be more than a slogan on a t-shirt. If we care about the future and the world we'll leave behind, let's be like roosters and wake each other up.

Kayann Short, Ph.D., is the author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography (Torrey House Press).  She farms, writes, and teaches at Stonebridge Farm, the first CSA in Boulder County, Colorado.