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Checking in with a chicken rental empire

Plus, a Philly bar in London explains the word 'Yo!'

May 13, 2022
Inside this edition: Chicken club, big league chew, primary primer, Frederick the corgi, Strange days, weekend planner, and everything in bloom.

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For a brief moment in 1884, Altoona had its own major league baseball team. What was it called?

(We'll have a real stumper in this space each week. You'll find the answer at the bottom, but don't miss all the good stuff in between.)

» One thing to know: Primary Day is Tuesday and there are big statewide races and lots of local ones on the ballot. Here's Spotlight PA's last-minute guide with everything you need to know.

» One thing to share: Half-sisters Shirley Campbell of New Castle and Mary Jo Goetz of St. Marys found each other through an at-home DNA test. Goetz was given up for adoption by their mother 71 years ago.

» One thing to see: A corgi named Frederick followed his nose to the bottom of a State College sinkhole and had to be rescued by firefighters — but not without taking a few action shots first.

» One thing to watch: Jaquel Spivey graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh last May and is now starring in the Broadway smash A Strange Loop. Watch the cast's Tiny Desk performance.

» One place to go: There is a Philadelphia dive bar-themed restaurant chain in London called Passyunk Avenue. It looks like this and its website devotes an entire section to explaining the word "Yo!

Chickens in the yard. (Bruce Turner / Flickr)

My dream of becoming a DIY egg farmer is currently on hold as a contentious email thread with my landlord stretches into eternity. 

For those of us unbound by stuffy lease agreements, though, the dream is very much alive. 

The “chickening” is happening — even in places where it shouldn’t be. And it’s easier than ever to jump on the homesteading wave thanks to a Pennsylvania couple that created a one-stop-shop for wannabe “chickeneers” like me.

It’s called Rent The Chicken and it received lots of media attention when it launched in 2013. 

Now, nearly a decade later, the concept seems almost prescient. Egg prices are way up. Local (or in this case hyperlocal) food is still very much en vogue. And being cooped up at home during the pandemic apparently made lots of people decide, "This place needs more livestock."

Co-founder Jenn Tompkins of Freeport says Rent The Chicken’s business grew 48% between 2020 and 2021. Since launching, they’ve added affiliates in at least a dozen states and Canada, too. Here’s an overview of how it works: 

You rent two egg-laying hens starting at $475 or four starting at $675. 

Included in that price are the birds, the coop, the feed, the delivery, and, when necessary, the hand-holding. 

Tompkins says two hens will lay about a dozen eggs a week and four hens will lay around two dozen. With rentals typically lasting spring to fall, that’s, um, a lot of eggs. 

(There is a “chicken out” clause if you change your mind midway.) 

“Are the chickens allowed to leave the coop and wander?” I asked. 

“Only if a responsible adult or person is out with them,” Tompkins explained. “The chickens aren’t going to run and if someone’s there the hawks won’t bother them.” 

Suddenly concerned about my precious, imaginary flock, I wanted to know if the birds could just hang in the house with me. Tompkins wouldn’t recommend it. Neither would the CDC

The disclaimers continued. 

“And for crying out loud don’t open-mouth kiss your chickens,” Tompkins added. 

It’s worth noting that there is a massive bird flu outbreak currently underway in Pennsylvania. Tompkins is as concerned as anyone but said their flocks are “closed,” meaning they only accept poultry from trusted sources with “biosecurity measures” in place. 

Would this convince my landlord to drop their opposition? Probably not. So I asked Tompkins for some messaging tips.

“I have great advice,” she shouted. “In some ways Rent The Chicken is the ultimate compromise. Sometimes you’re persuading a neighbor or a spouse even, and I tell people that one of the biggest misconceptions about backyard hens is that they’re noisy. Roosters are noisy. Four egg-laying hens are far less noisy than most neighborhood dogs, and two hens produce less poop than a German shepherd.” 

Colin Deppen, Spotlight PA 

In bloom, via Nora O. Send us your Pennsylvania pics by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania
» COVID-19 UPDATE: Keep up with our coronavirus tracker, or find where to get a COVID-19 vaccine.

» Your complete guide to voting in the May 17 primary election

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» A guide to the overlooked race for Pa. lieutenant governor

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» Friday, May 13: See David Puglia's high-contrast photos of 70s-era Philadelphia at Scranton's CameraWork Gallery. Admission is free

» Saturday, May 14: Tee off National Mini Golf Day by creating a mini golf course at Lancaster Public Library. Ages 8 to 12. Registration required.

» Saturday, May 14: Catch a doubleheader at Allegheny County's South Park Fairgrounds with Park ‘til Dark and Pour at the Park.

» Saturday, May 14: Try the stuffed cabbage, pierogies, and halushky at the Spring Fling Ukrainian Food Festival on Pittsburgh's South Side.

» Sunday, May 15: Catch the blood moon eclipse, if the skies are clear. The period of totality starts at 11:29 p.m. in central Pennsylvania.

» Thursday, May 19: Watch the improv or be the improv at the Happy Valley XL Improv Festival in State College. Ticket prices vary.
Altoona's major league baseball team was called the Mountain Citys and it belonged to one of many short-lived professional leagues that popped up in the U.S. before The MLB™️ became the sport's dominant force.

The Altoona Mirror recently wrote about the Citys, the beef historians have with the "major league" label, and the team's star player, a 21-year-old from Pittsburgh named George “Germany” Smith.

The team dissolved the same year it launched. Smith's career continued and later intertwined with a rare act of team sport mutiny centered on a Philly-born pitcher named John Francis "Phenomenal" Smith.  

Thanks for reading PA Local! We'll see you back here next week. But first ... send us your feedback. What did you like? What didn't you like? What do you want to see more of? Or, tell us your secret food recipes!
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