John Gerzema: The Un-Consumer
If you want to see how the Great Recession has reshaped consumerism you can start with both the chicken and the egg.
If you want to see how the Great Recession has reshaped consumerism you can start with both the chicken and the egg. You find them in hundreds if not thousands of backyards, where do-it-yourselfers have built coops, installed hens, and begun harvesting their own eggs. At most of these homes you’ll also see the modern version of the old Victory Gardens: small plots that produce crops all year long. This shift from consumption to production in households across America is part of a more self-reliant lifestyle. Today it’s about make instead of take: Twenty-three million Americans grew their own food last year, while nearly two-thirds of American households in our surveying were learning new skills in order to be more resourceful.
Leslie Halleck was one of the first on her block to start raising chickens in her backyard. She bought them in 2008, as the Great Recession gained momentum, and then watched as people all over her neighborhood in East Dallas called Little Forest Hills, followed suit. But no one would have noticed if a black-and-white Dominique hen hadn’t wandered away from her home. A homeowner who alerted the gardening writer at the Dallas Morning News discovered the lost chicken. City officials got into the act and pretty soon they were getting anonymous complaints about henhouses all over Dallas. As Halleck recalls it, the chicken controversy was eventually resolved when city officials realized that no ordinance banned backyard hens. A hastily adopted rule against roosters eliminated concerns about noise, and nuisance laws assured that other complaints could be addressed on a case-by-case basis.
Halleck says she was pleased by the outcome, and also intrigued by the outpouring of support she received. Many agreed with her argument that when Texans become afraid of livestock, there’s something wrong with them.
Halleck went one step further, creating a business to train and supply the growing number of locals who raise birds and collect eggs every day. Her first Saturday class drew over one hundred people. With the parking lot overfilled, cars spilled onto the shoulder of North Haven Road.
Leslie Halleck’s North Haven Farms is one of fifty companies interviewed for the Wall Street Journal best-seller: Spend Shift: How the Post-Crisis Values Revolution is Changing the Way We Buy, Sell and Live.
John Gerzema (@johngerzema/twitter) is president of Brandasset Consulting and Young & Rubicam’s Brandasset Valuator, the world’s largest database of consumer behavior, attitudes and values. Michael d’antonio is a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, author and reporter.