By Brian Coatney
City is city and country is country, right? Well, not exactly. There was once a time when
country folks were more self-sustaining, and city dwellers automatically relied on stores.
Hybrid thinking, however, has led one
Hopkinsville family to explore ways to decrease processed food dependency, get in touch with the earth and not rely solely on the economy.
Andy and Natalie Riggs and their three young sons are having fun (along with trial and error) learning ways to increase self-reliance. They aren’t fanatics, though, so don’t run away with your hands over your ears until you’ve heard this interesting story of “all things in moderation,” as the Riggs like to say.
Interest in sustainability began for Natalie while she was a student at the University of Kentucky. She worked as a nanny for a nurse who had a book on commonly used items containing possible carcinogens. After reading the book, Natalie was inspired to make her own baby food.
Andy’s mom always “tinkered with a garden,” and the family’s subdivision bordered 10 acres of forest where he grew up exploring and fishing. He’s now the aquatic biologist at Fort Campbell, overseeing 260 miles of streams.The boys — Andrew, 8, and 5-year-old twins Sam and Henry — learned how to clean fish by watching dad. They look forward to when they are old enough to handle the knife themselves.
“I like to show our boys that you can do things for yourselves,” Andy said.
The whole family helps out in their two gardens, one growing the usual vegetables and another with grapes, blueberries and a small stand of corn. They learned quickly that squirrels and birds like fruits, too.
“Squirrels will eat about anything,” Andy noted.
The Riggs can their own jars of beans and have a compost pile, which is an unpredictable heap produced by volunteer watermelons and gourds from rinds thrown onto it.
Easter 2013 brought the exciting addition of chickens for fresh eggs after the boys saw them at Tractor Supply. The clutch came with literature on how to develop the chicks — specific on the use of a heat lamp, proper bedding and chicken feed.
Andy built the coop, and the family began to learn the chicken culture.
“They are very protective of themselves but mean to the little chicks,” young Andrew observed. His job included letting them out in the morning and collecting the eggs.
Andy said gardening and raising chickens taught his family responsibility.
“We had to be up and outside every day,”
Natalie took the opportunity to explain what a “pecking order” is and to teach the boys about old timey Kentucky sayings like, “Don’t get your feathers ruffled.”
Once the coop got going, Andy said, the chickens were low maintenance, and the eggs were brown, delicious and rich in flavor.
“The only pain is filling the water and locking them in at night,” he said.
Unfortunately, a city ordinance forbidding chickens within city limits was invoked this year, and the Riggs had to find a new home for the flock.
Ida Colley, a friend of a friend, took the chickens and added them to the flock on her farm. However, she learned quickly that the new additions don’t like her rooster and have low regard for her chickens.
Ida texts Natalie regularly about how the chickens are doing and gave them the nickname “Houdini chickens” because they found a way to escape their pen and roam nearby.
The twins, especially, miss playing with the chickens at home. It wasn’t rare for passers-by to see Sam and Henry each standing in the yard hugging a chicken to get them into a frolic.
The Riggs hope to buy land in the county down the road when Natalie finishes her Master’s degree to become a school counselor. There, the family can bring back their coop and hone their skills in being more self-sufficient.
In the meantime, the Riggs are maintaining their garden and eating organic food more often because Natalie says, “You know what you’re eating.” In a sense, some might call it a new way of “backyard homesteading.”
Brian Coatney is an assistant professor of English at Hopkinsville Community College’s Fort Campbell campus. Brian, a Hopkinsville resident, has been with HCC since 2002.
By Brian Coatney