Hobby Farms Grow Among City Dwellers

farmAbout an hour before the start of a spring storm, Dominique Salamone surveyed her three-quarter-acre Northridge yard and commenced an impromptu master class in suburban chicken raising.

“You have to be committed,” she said. “Raising livestock takes time and knowledge. And it helps to have a handy spouse.”

The former sheet-metal factory forewoman apologized for the overgrown vegetable garden as 12 hens and a small but feisty new rooster named Rudy moved freely around us.

Just blocks away, commuters were already getting caught in the beat-the-rain gridlock, but Salamone, who started keeping livestock in 2010, never abandoned the mantle of earth-mother-at-peace. Her hobby farm, she said, gives her a sense of purpose ? and offers a more healthful alternative to red-meat dishes.

The daily bounty (up to a dozen eggs that come in a variety of colors, depending on the breed) and the satisfaction that comes from teaching her children, ages 1 and 5, about nature more than compensate for the time and upkeep (about $50 a month for bedding and food). And she can trade resources (natural fertilizer and her prized blue eggs) with friends and neighbors.

“The eggs are delicious, the chickens relax you,” she said, “and I like having something that gives back.”

In addition to chickens, today’s urban barnyards include goats, turkeys, potbellied pigs, cows and bees. And what distinguishes a so-called hobby farm from other animal-related enterprises? For IRS purposes, a hobby farm is a homestead run primarily for pleasure, not profit.

“The dividing line is when you start selling the products,” said Rachel A. Surls, sustainable food systems advisor for the University of California Cooperative Extension in Los Angeles County. “Once you start selling the produce, you are a farm and bound by a lot of rules and regulations.”

Some experts say hobby farms are on the rise. “We have definitely seen a resurgence in some forms of farming, some of it hobby farming,” said Ken Pellman, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County Department of Agricultural Commissioner, Weights and Measures.

Stacy McKenna, the secretary for the Los Angeles County Beekeepers Assn., said interest in backyard beekeeping and sustainability has helped increase membership from about 100 in 2009 to 600 today.

Retailers acknowledge the trend. Danny Finkelstein, who opened Chatsworth’s Valley Hive beekeeping supply and service store in May 2014 and filled two of three honey harvesting and beekeeping workshops in the fall, said a March workshop was a sellout.

“Business has been amazingly good,” he said. “It is normal in other countries for people to have their own food in their yard and their own bees. But we are seeing a rise in urban beekeepers.”

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