At times, it seems as if our food comes from a far-off place, finding its way onto our dinner plates from parts unknown. But it turns out there’s plenty being harvested right in our salt-sprayed back yard.
Here, we meet a few of the folks who are keeping the Cape’s agrarian traditions alive on scales big and small: a mother who collects eggs from a chicken coop right outside her front door, a family going whole-hog—and whole-goat—into raising their own food, a lifelong grower at the helm of one of the largest farmers markets on the Cape, and a fisherman who hustles to make a living wage in uncertain times. Read on, dig in—and eat up.
In just three years, Melissa Caughey has become fluent in hen-speak. As Oyster Cracker, Dolly, Tilly, and the four other members of her gold-and-black-and-lavender brood kick up wood chips in a chicken run outside her Osterville home, Caughey translates their conversation—a staccato bup bup bup means one of the hens is close to laying an egg, a back-of-the-throat bray means hello—and talks back without a trace of self-consciousness.
It’s a scene the Los Angeles transplant and nurse practitioner never imagined before moving east with her husband, Peter Crosson, a decade ago. As their family grew to include two children, the family’s agrarian endeavors expanded beyond gardens and raised vegetable beds. Caughey began noticing chickens all over—on magazine pages, during drives around town—and she decided her children needed a pet. “The local food movement had really started to hit on the Cape, and I figured these were pets with benefits,” Caughey says. When the summer of 2010 arrived, so did a package of Buff Orpingtons, Silkie Bantams, and an Australorp from mypetchicken.com.
Today, Caughey and her family head to the coop twice a day to gather the eggs, a mix of brown and beige, large and small, all with electric orange yolks. For much of the year—especially in late spring—they arrive by the dozens each week. “You get really good at making egg recipes,” she says.
Caring for a chicken has proved surprisingly simple—“somewhere between a cat and a dog,” Caughey says. And chickens have been a gateway of sorts: Because the eggs contain what the chickens eat in their free-range ambles, she began using organic gardening techniques throughout her property, and success with the chickens led the family to add two beehives on its property. Caughey has also joined the Barnstable Agriculture Commission, hosted workshops about raising backyard chickens, and she writes on tillysnest.com about her hen-raising exploits. (She also writes about her backyard gardening adventures for HGTV and other outlets.) Currently, Caughey is writing a book based on her blog for a Massachusetts-based publisher.
The chicken coop at the top of her driveway has been a way for Caughey’s children to learn about responsibility, acceptance, loss, and unconditional love. And for Caughey, the chickens provide an antidote during the offseason. “When you’re here in the winter, and the tourists are gone and the leaves are gone, and we have those grey cloudy skies and the landscape looks the same, all I have to do is look through my window and see these little bursts of color running around like it’s the best day ever,” she says. “And somehow, all that grey fades.” tillysnest.com