Isabella Rossellini — actor, author, international muse and candidate for an MS in animal behavior at Hunter College — took up animal husbandry four years ago, when she began raising chickens. Her 28-acre Bellport farm is her lab as well as a source of eggs and education. Her recent book, “My Chickens and I” (published by Abrams Books), is an appreciation of all things yardbird.
“Growing up in Rome and Santa Marinella, was there a farm in your family?
I think everybody in Italy had either a personal relationship with a farmer or if we had a second home, it was more or less run as a farm. Very few people had a swimming pool or a tennis court, but most people had chickens or a pig. When I was little, I don’t think I realized I was eating the chickens that I played with ... or that when they said, “Oh, today we are going to the village; we will eat at the restaurant,” this was the day they would kill the pig and make our own prosciutto or sausages.
What’s happening at your Bellport farm?
It’s really an artisanal farm. I’m working for my community of 2,000 people. Maybe 200 people have eaten my eggs .... I sell eggs through a CSA, and people who buy my eggs and honey can come to the farm and walk their dogs and have their children visit the animals. [I raise] heritage breeds because they are healthier birds, and because small farms are encouraged by scientists to keep diversity. We allow school groups to come, so we do have an educational component. Because I was wondering, what sense is there to have a farm? Is it just my playground? Or can we contribute? And we can contribute.
The CDC recently issued a warning about kissing chickens. But your chickens are irresistible. Do you kiss them?
No, they don’t want to be kissed! They don’t even want to be touched .... I don’t know how they manifest affection toward each other. You often see two sunbathing and sitting very close to each other, and it’s always the same two.
Do you worry about predators?
Most of them are hawks. At night once, something got in and killed a few chicks — maybe a raccoon. We just found feathers.
What does your dog, Pinocchio, think of the chickens?
He has to learn not to catch them, but he’s very tempted .... I would not leave him alone with them.
Do you eat them?
I eat chicken, but I don’t eat my chickens. Once I know them personally, I find it hard.
Where do you go out to eat?
There are two restaurants that I go to on Long Island: Chachama in Patchogue and The Bellport here, mostly because I am friendly with them and they buy vegetables from our farm, and there are always friends there.
Are there traits of chickens that you identify with?
No .... I’m a human being.
Your approach to farming and your book are more thoughtful than agritainment.
Deep down, I’m an entertainer, so I use it as my own inspiration, but I’m glad to have an audience .... What I want people to do is laugh at my book or be charmed .... to go “ha ha ha” and then go “ah-ha.”