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Columbia prof makes documentary — about raising chickens in Northbrook

Northbrook's Jennifer (left) Jeff Spitz with their two female chickens Nigel (Jennifer) Robert. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media

Northbrook's Jennifer (left) and Jeff Spitz with their two female chickens, Nigel (on Jennifer) and Robert. | Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 26, 2012 1:09AM

What came first for Northbrook’s Jeff Spitz — the chicken, the eggs or the documentary starring two female chickens, Nigel and Robert?

“The documentary came first,” said Spitz, a Columbia College film professor and Chicago Groundswell Educational Films principal.

Spitz’s 90-minute documentary, “Food Patriots,” — in its post-production stage — is about “getting people to make a 10 percent change in the way they buy, eat and talk about food” and follows his family’s adventures raising chickens in their Northbrook backyard. To see a preview, visit

“We will have (screenings at) film festivals and we’ll also organize with stakeholders and between film festivals, colleges and large conferences, we will reach a lot of people,” Spitz said.

Spitz, who began documentary research in Madison, Wis., was amazed when his family hatched the idea to raise chickens.

His wife, Jennifer Amdur Spitz, and son A.J., 16, a Glenbrook North High School sophomore, watched in delight as hen eggs ordered from the Murray McMurray Hatchery catalog produced the now all-grown-up chicks Nigel and Robert.

“The chickens were out of left field,” said Spitz. “I wanted nothing to do with chickens a year ago and thought my wife was crazy for ordering them.”

But, “[Nigel and Robert] surprised me,” Spitz said.

“I find them fascinating. I take care of them every day. People have come to my house to learn about raising chickens from me — now I am becoming the ‘chicken whisperer.’”

His hens lay one brown egg each a day, said Spitz.

“Some people talk to their plants, some people talk to their pets, I like to say hello to the chickens in the morning. And when you come home, you get out of the car (in the garage, where the henhouse is located) and you have to say hello: ‘Hi Nigel, Hi Robert, how are you doing, any eggs today?’”

Spitz, whose Sundance-selected documentary “The Return of Navajo Boy” changed legislation about a residential radioactive uranium mining area — appreciates groundswell support.

“We went to an open house at [Glenbrook North High School] and somebody came up and said, ‘You guys are the chicken people!’ I laughed — I thought it was so funny. We’re the chicken people now. It’s hilarious.

“A year ago, you have to realize, I didn’t care, the food store is as far as [‘Food Patriots’] would take me.”

Spitz will include footage documenting the ongoing Northbrook chicken ownership discussion. The Communications and Legislation Committee will discuss the issue at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Northbrook Village Hall. Residents are allowed to raise chickens in Northbrook, but the village’s restrictions are tougher than other municipalities.

“Now I understand what a food system is — that any item of food can truly open up a lens to history — to environmental impact,” said Spitz.

“If anyone had the curiosity to research one item they eat, they would watch the whole world open up to them.”

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