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Martha's Vineyard and the humble home chicken coop

August 18, 2011 |  6:00 am

In July I filed a number of posts from the East Coast, where my band was touring for a few weeks. There was one post I kept meaning to write but didn't (until now). I want to tell you about the chickens a friend's mother, Lesley Eaton, kept on Martha's Vineyard in a coop beside her beautiful country home.

She sells them by the dozen at a small cafe and restaurant called the Scottish Bakehouse under the moniker Eaton Eggs. Get it? She doesn't make money off of them, really, since the eggs retail for $7 to $10 a dozen, and she only gathers about a dozen a day.

But that's not the point for Eaton. The eggs -- gathering them, selling them and consuming them -- are about the community of food, especially the kind you bring about yourself, whether by growing it or raising chickens to lay it.  

Since it is an island, reachable only by boat, Martha's Vineyard has an extremely self-sustained ecosystem. Those who live there pay to dispose of their trash by weight and grow much of what they eat "on island," as they call it. Everything else is simply "off island."

When we stayed with Eaton and her daughter Lizzy Kent, they put us up in a yurt on the property that was only a few yards from the coop, and just a bit farther, down a well-worn dirt path, from the main house. The chickens, about 30 or so of them, were a rowdy bunch to be sure, clucking and scratching at all hours, but I loved the sound.

There was one unfortunate instance, however, when Eaton let the chickens out in the morning to peck for worms and Lizzy's dog went a bit Norman Bates, snatching one startled bird up by its bottom and shaking it until it lay still in the dirt. We city girls screamed and prepared to put the beleaguered thing out of its misery with a shovel. Fortunately Eaton arrived and swept it up in her arms, murmuring "poor bird," at which point it let out a grateful squawk and ran off.

Later that morning I cooked a delicious batch of scrambled eggs made from the basket of eggs on the wooden table in the kitchen (fresh eggs don't need immediate refrigeration, so Eaton leaves them on display) mixed with fresh squash and tomatoes from the garden and served with warm bread and fresh butter. We ate the simple meal on the porch, watching the tall trees sway in the summer breeze.

In this way the Vineyard is the epitome of what many in the urban off-island sprawl of the mainland are trying to accomplish with their sustainable, market-driven fare and endless talk of farmers markets.

I'm not sure we'll ever be able to slow down enough to make home gardens and home-raised chickens a way of life, but thinking about it makes me feel good inside -- the idea that one day I could have a lovely home with a wide porch, a lush garden, and a grassy yard where dogs and chickens run around with barefoot children.

An idyllic place where a sun-dappled outdoor shower coated in soft moss is always ready for me.


Fat Spoon opens in Little Tokyo

Get your weekend brunch on at Playa

Bouchon Bakery comes to Beverly Hills

--Jessica Gelt

Photo: Jessica Gelt / Los Angeles Times