Sunday, July 5, 2009

Giving Wings to Water Street (And Drumsticks!)

Dusty Diary has been pondering the proposal being quietly bandied about to turn a relatively pollution-free area of Ypsilanti's Water Street brownfield into an organic free-range chicken farm.

Well, it wouldn't be the first time for poultry on Water Street.

Here's an undated Archives picture of the Boston poultry house, once a large building at 24 Water Street. The sign says "Good Live Poultry of All Kinds Wanted." What does this mean? Was it a chicken farm, or a slaughterhouse doing the processing for the onetime proliferation of backyard Ypsilanti chickens? Perhaps both.

Assuming the people in front are the sum total of the BPH's employees, the place gave jobs to 23 people--which meant money for up to 23 Ypsilanti families. It's hard to date this photo since there is no entry in the Archives' "Businesses" files for the BPH, suggesting that it was a less-prominent operation in town. But can we take a guess from the clothing? Hmm...very late 1800s/turn of the century? It's interesting to note that whereas fancy fashions have definite historical styles, the clothes of working people are far less distinctive.

According to what has been heard about the proposal, the free-range farm would be only part of a cycle of farming operations on the site including harvesting and composting the high-nitrogen chicken fertilizer, mycoremediation, and other interlocking, mutually beneficial aspects, a la the famed Salatins' Polyface Farm.

Although the prospect of reclaiming Ypsilanti's famed heritage as a garden city is appealing, with local schoolkids learning about and participating in a Polyface-style farm right on their doorstep, it would take hard work. However, brownfield remediation via urban agriculture is a fast-emerging field--one in which Ypsilanti could be at the cutting edge, especially with the resources and knowledge of Growing Hope to draw on.

At any rate, perhaps someday some crazy dreamer with a posthole digger, preparing for a poultry fence on Water Street, might find in her dirt-pile a worn white feather--a tiny legacy, and possibly unwitting sign of encouragement, from the Boston Poultry House.


Lisele said...

I see a suspicion of leg-o-mutton sleeves on many of the women, and bowler hats on the two men to the far left. Would you agree? That would put this photo at about 1895.

Dusty D said...

Lisele: Those are as usual good observations, but it sounds like you'd know more about the historical fashions than I would, so I defer to you. Thank you for narrowing down the date!