Last Word: Isabella Rossellini - Modern Farmer

Last Word: Isabella Rossellini

In 1952, Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini collaborated on a short film called The Chicken. More than six decades later, the duo's actress-daughter has written a book, My Chickens and I (Abrams Books), about the 100 heritage hens she raises on New York's Long Island. Currently pursuing a master's degree in animal behavior, the 65-year-old polymath holds forth on conservation, connoisseurship, and aggressive cocks.

Photo: Patrice Casanova

Farms grow communities. Three years ago, I bought 28 acres from a developer planning to build 12 homes, and secured a conservation easement with the Peconic Land Trust, which preserves natural lands and farms on Long Island – something that affects quality of life for all of us. Since then, Patty Gentry, a chef, has started cultivating vegetables here and opened a farmers market that has made everyone in town happy.

I define luxury differently now. I no longer dream of buying a Chanel bag. Instead, I dream of good food, from farmers and chefs I know. That kind of connoisseurship, the sort of curiosity that leads to understanding, is the greatest satisfaction.

Diversity guarantees the survival of a species. And yet most farms raise the same broiler chicken. The eggs at the grocery store are either white or brown and all one uniform size and shape. I began acquiring heritage hens – Cochins, Fayoumis, Brahmas – in part to help save these rare breeds. And the variations among their eggs are remarkable!

I’ll eat chicken, but not my own. I can’t eat an animal I know personally. At first, I thought, “Oh, it’s because I’m an actress and urban and not a real farmer,” but Temple Grandin told me this happens to a lot of farmers. That consoled me.

Though I have sentenced a few birds to death. I only order female chicks, for the eggs and to avoid interbreeding. But sometimes a baby rooster gets mixed in with the shipment. The males are very, very aggressive, and when they start assaulting people and other animals, you have to put them down. There’s always some killing involved on a farm. Try as you might, you can’t avoid it.

Watch Green Porno, Isabella Rossellini’s series on the sexual behavior of garden critters, at

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