Utah Stories

Self-Sustaining Lifestyle

A family from Roy, Utah, lives of a life of self-sustainability.


Photos by Maria Milligan

The city of Roy has a problem. For several years residents, and city council members have been at odds about allowing chickens on residential property. Maria Milligan, a Roy resident and aspiring chicken owner, says, “The city people seem to be afraid that chickens are a gateway drug to bigger farm animals, and heaven knows a cow could spell the end of life as we know it.” Regardless, she claims that there has been a thaw in the standoff this year and hopes that this could mean more allowances for small-scale residential area farming. 

unnamed1Maria and her husband, Gordon, travel in many different circles. Owning chickens is just one of their interests. Others include beekeeping, raising quail, making a biannual trek to the Sun Tunnels, and attending mountain man rendezvous and gem and mineral shows. Because of all this, Maria says she and Gordon find themselves in a lot of different communities.

The Milligans value self-sustainability. They believe that most of what you need can be made. A lamp with an open front shows the custom circuitry Gordon had done. A 3D printer hums on the kitchen table as the applicator drew out lines of hard plastic to make an airlock for the growlers they make to cook wine and vinegar. In the backyard, there’s a smoker they made out of a fifty-gallon drum that used to hold honey. When I asked Maria if it was difficult to do all this work, she said, “Of course these traditional skills come with their own stress, but it’s nice to do things more slowly and deliberately.”

On Sundays, they cook homemade meals for family and friends. It started as a way to test out new recipes and cooking methods. By making their own ingredients, Maria says, “We have control not only over what goes into our food – no preservatives or chemicals – but also over subtleties of flavor, so we can make things just as we like them.”

During the Summer Solstice and Gordon packed their new offset smoker. He served smoked chicken and steak, accompanied by skillet-cooked cornbread baked directly over the coals. I’ve had good meals, but this was more than that. The conscious effort put into the meal made it better than anything I could have ordered at a local grill.

The Milligans say their philosophy leads to a healthier lifestyle. “Modern conveniences are great in a lot of ways,” Maria shares, “but we certainly burn fewer calories to get food than our ancestors did. It’s nice to put some sweat and effort into providing for yourself in more traditional ways.” In addition the people they meet at farmers’ markets and rendezvous say that, whether gardening or participating in animal husbandry, they feel calmer than at their daily jobs. Everyone has a way to wind down, but Maria sees the benefit of doing so while taking pride in providing for yourself.

Maria hopes that a growing interest in local sustainable living practices will guide the city of Roy to allow chickens. Some of the remaining resistance may come from those who are unsure of the benefits of this lifestyle. Maria offers her advice on how people can get started, she said, “I am a huge fan of beekeeping and gardening. Both are pretty easy to get into, and neither take that much work to maintain as long as you keep up with them. And thanks to my husband, I am more and more convinced that if everyone had a better understanding of woodworking and basic repair, we would waste fewer resources and be more useful in general.”unnamed


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