Skyhill: A Love Story


Member Submission By Louise Johnson

My love affair with laying hens began after I retired from teaching in Brooklyn and purchased 15 acres on a hilltop plateau an hour east of Albany. I lived alone, surrounded only by sky and distant trees. My goal was to model food as a key solution to pollution, chronic disease and climate change. And to model this by holding events and inviting PSFC members, etc., to visit this piece of nature I quickly named Skyhill. This was 2004.

I was a member of PSFC’s Environmental Committee and became its upstate organizer, forming a loose coalition of upstate food coops around lobbying (we called it “informing”) about problems with GM/GE/GMO food. PSFC joined with Albany’s Honest Weight Coop to create NYSAGE (New York State Against Genetic Engineering), and for almost three years we worked with farmers, statewide coop members and some scientists, to repeatedly inform in every office in the state legislature about our three bills. Members of PSFC trekked to Albany for two lobby days and other events. The six public events and resulting newspaper articles added to our outreach about GMOs. Three bills were passed in the assembly only. The Senate was a piece of work.

Our expectation was to inform, which we achieved. I learned enough about the corrupt and dysfunctional New York legislature and about the art of lobbying to realize why folks speak of the need for revolutions. That was 2007.

This is an appeal: urban return-migration to rural farmland, the roots of all Americans, is needed to protect our water, soil, air, and food. 

I built a barn and bought 25 laying hens which became over 300 hens in a few years. Hatching eggs led to 26 roosters in one season, and to 14 years of unique descendants of inter-bred heritage breeds. I continue to be stunned daily by the diverse beauty and “chickenalities” I live among.

I want to relate stories of chicken prowess, intelligence, problem-solving, social organization, playfulness, sharing and caring.  My very out-of-date website still has a few photos. I also want to stay at Skyhill forever. But, as I approach 80 years, I have run out of stamina and am no longer able to lift and haul and run eggs to the Albany coop. I plan to take only a few hens and some fertile eggs to Maine where my daughter has moved and awaits me.

I leave behind a legacy of two separate egg farms, with five new, unique and spacious chicken abodes (one, is also a greenhouse), a lovely stream and waterfall, more than a hundred new fruit and nut trees and shrubs, a large raised-bed garden, acres of woodland, solar panels, two passive solar homes and perhaps lots of hens in need of someone who will also love chickens.

Both rural properties were transformed from wannabe suburban houses with ridiculously huge lawns to model communities of chickens moving freely among extensive climate victory gardens. This is an appeal: urban return-migration to rural farmland, the roots of all Americans, is needed to protect our water, soil, air, and food. Meaningful and fun work for retirees, and all others.