Leave it to Isabella Rossellini to take what started as a hobby—raising chickens on her Long Island farm—and turn it into art. In the new book My Chickens and I, the actress, model, and artist introduces readers to her crew of heritage-breed chickens, with names like Andy Warhol and Amelia Earhart, who are photographed inside their own sets. The book, with photographs by Patrice Casanova, documents the growth of Rossellini’s first flock of around 40 chickens, from the moment they arrived as online-ordered chicks in a box, until they began laying eggs themselves. Today, there are around 120 chickens on her farm in Bellport, NY.
The slim volume also includes Rossellini’s observations, curious thoughts, funny tidbits, research-driven musings, and hand-drawn illustrations about life on the farm. It gives a lot of insight not only into her experience raising chickens, but also her knowledge of animals, wildlife, and even evolution. Rossellini spoke to Vanity Fair on the phone this week to talk about life on “Isabella’s Farm.”
Vanity Fair: There are dog people, and there are cat people. Why do you think people should consider the chicken?
Isabella Rossellini: I live on a farm, so I’m not suggesting that people buy chickens. I have and manage a farm that is about 60 miles from Manhattan, where we grow vegetables, honey, and eggs. . . . The intent was not to tell people to “buy chickens instead of dogs (laughs).”
Of course. But what pushed you to buy the chickens in the first place?
I was thinking of farming. I always liked it. I was interested in animals mostly, but farming was always interesting to me. So the function of this little organic farm is really the impact that it has in the community, the local community. You really change people’s lives. You bring your babies, you see how carrots grow, you see how tomatoes grow, you see chickens. It’s really a gift to the community.
Was farming an interest since childhood?
I’m Italian, and in Italy we are not so separated from the farm. And here in America, children don’t even know that eggs come from chickens (laughs). Italy is a very agricultural nation. There’s a very big back-and-forth between city and country. I grew up very close to farming. The second home we had as children, where we used to go for holidays, generally were houses within a farmland. So, I was familiar with it.
But it was only after I became older, and I didn’t really work as a model, and also acting was—there wasn’t really many jobs. That’s when I went back to university to study animal behavior, because I was always interested in it. (Rossellini enrolled in Hunter College’s masters program for animal behavior and conservation in 2015.) And then this opportunity of the farm came. And I just did it. . . . It was just like, “Let me do it!” Because my children were grown up, and I wasn’t working, so it created an activity for me as a person who was basically retired. Now, work started all over again, but I didn‘t expect that five, six, seven years ago. I didn’t expect that I was going to work as much as I am. (She recently became a spokesperson for Lancôme and has a role in the Hulu series, Shut Eye.)
Read more at Vanity Fair.