I met Seamus Ford on an assignment in Austin, just west of downtown Chicago. He’s fascinating for a variety of reasons, none the least being he’s a white guy named Seamus living in a predominately black neighborhood where he raises chickens in his backyard. Seamus is big-time into sustainability and using creative efforts to reuse things opposed to simply throwing them away.
That’s where his chickens come flying in. Just before they were scheduled to be, shall we say, sent to chicken death row, Seamus spared them by offering up some cash to a local processing company in exchange for their lives. If birds made movies, this would be a Featherella story because they now live comfortably in a custom hutch Seamus constructed out of old fence posts, kitchen cabinets and other scrap materials he salvaged. They’re fed an organic diet and get constant attention.
They are the talk of this urban neighborhood as area kids, most who had previously only seen farm animals from pictures in books, stop by and stare almost in disbelief. Eventually they gain familiarity and help Ford feed them and collect their eggs.
Curiosity has a way of bringing down the barriers often formed by sociological differences. A few blocks west sits affluent and mostly white Oak Park and River Forest. The blocks east are almost entirely black populated. In between resides a man, his chickens and an inspiring sense of diverse community where learning how to make the most out of what you have is a prevailing lesson. Everyone can learn something from that.
No kids were around during my visit, so Seamus corralled one of the birds (who put up a pretty good fight, at left) and I shot what I think might be one of the best portraits ever made of a chicken. Not that I’m flapping my own wings or anything.