My farm-to-table fantasy? I harvest eggs, milk and honey with my own hands and eat the fruits of my labor, aglow in the setting sun.
Yet I'm a city slicker with a short attention span. So where's the happy medium for a potential urban farmer like me?
Yes, just in time for spring, you can rent chickens for eggs (with an option to adopt if you come to love them) or goats for grazing your lawn (they don't bite). You can even rent your own honeybee colony to buzz about on your rooftop or in your backyard.
It could be an economical way to dip your toe in, make a little money, save on groceries - and give the creatures back at the end of the season.
Feeling a buzz
Alphabetically, we begin with bees - honeybees, that is.
"Urban beekeeping is increasingly popular," says Steve Finke, second vice president of the Pennsylvania State Beekeepers Association.
What does it typically cost to rent a hive? To pollinate gardens or fruit trees, or just for the honey, the going rate ranges from $50 to $80 a hive for the season, Finke estimates.
"It's a hobby, but at least you break even and it's cost-effective - all I do is throw money into golf. But at least with beekeeping I can make it back," he says, laughing.
The Pennsylvania average for harvestable honey per hive is about 40 pounds in a year, he says.
"If you have one or two hives on your roof and you keep the honeybees alive and happy, you get 40 to 80 pounds of honey. You can eat it, give it away for holiday gifts, and it's fun."
Courtesy of the Philadelphia Beekeepers Guild (phillybeekeepers.org), you can take beginner and advanced classes on beekeeping. Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences courses also are open to the public (http://extension.psu.edu).
Contact a local beekeeper group to get started:
Bucks County Beekeepers Association (bucksbeekeepers.com)
Chester County Beekeepers Association (chescobees.org)
Pennsylvania - Montgomery County Beekeepers Association (montcobeekeepers.org)
New Jersey (www.njbeekeepers.org)
If you buy organic eggs at the market for about $4.99 a dozen, that adds up.
For $350, Rent the Chicken (www.rentthechicken.com) delivers grown hens already laying eggs, plus a movable coop and 100 pounds of feed.Although it's illegal to keep chickens within Philadelphia city limits (however loosely enforced), Rent the Chicken has many customers in the suburbs, such as Newtown Square and Villanova. Contact your township office before acquiring a coop or your birds.
This season, Rent the Chicken offers free delivery within 50 miles of Mount Holly (for eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey customers), as well as within 50 miles of their headquarters in Freeport, Pa., (for Western Pennsylvania customers). Owners Phil and Jenn Tompkins expanded into New Jersey this year.
Chickens produce the most eggs from May until November, says Jenn Tompkins. Toward the end of the rental, if you realize you were born to raise backyard chickens, adopting is possible. Otherwise, Rent the Chicken returns in November to pick up the rented birds, coop and supplies.
If you decide to adopt:
Option 1: You keep your two chickens and their supplies, and receive a heated water dish for an additional $350.
Option 2: You upgrade your Rent the Chicken coop to a larger portable coop with two additional chickens and a heated water dish for $550.
Assuming kind treatment, your two rental chickens should lay eight to 14 eggs a week, and you'll know exactly what they've been eating.
Breeds available for the 2015 season are Buff Orpington, Speckled Sussex, Black Star, and Silver Laced Wyandotte; all lay brown eggs. Tompkins says Rent the Chicken has a limited number of Easter Egger hens that lay blue/green eggs.
"People have grown more conscious about where their food comes from and want to be more involved. They're trying to look for a healthier way to get access to food," she says. "It's very enjoyable and stress-relieving to be around animals. Plus, chickens have great personalities."
Among adoptions, she says, the most popular chicken names are Elsa and Anna, after the characters in the movie Frozen. Among older customers, Laverne and Shirley are favorite names.
Carrie Pavlik founded Steel City Grazers in Pittsburgh and is currently raising money to expand. Her company (www.steelcitygrazers.com) offers goats for rent.
What gave her the idea? A few years in the Peace Corps and an affinity for farming.
"I've had goats for a couple of years. Then some friends asked me to lend my goats to eat poison ivy. I realized people are looking for goats to clear their land, and it's more common out west," she explains.
A native of Meadville, Pa., she expanded from grazing into goat events, where she brings four-legged buddies to parties and weddings. Her goal is to raise $40,000 (www.indiegogo.com/projects/pittsburgh-goat-grazing-company) to buy more goats, a guard llama (yes, that's correct), fencing, a trailer, livestock equipment, and a part-time employee for the season.