Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I was shakin' like a leaf!

Whew!!!


Well, I headed out to the meeting this evening, and got there a little early. It was interesting to walk into the Town Hall 'after hours' and right into the meeting room. At first there weren't many people there, and the ones that were there were very quiet, so I picked a seat and sat down. I was sure Dave would be there soon, and just figured I would hang out and take in the atmosphere of the room. It was very interesting - it seemed everyone else that was there knew each other. As more folks trickled into the room, I felt under dressed for the occasion... most of the women had dress suits or skirts on, and all of the men had suits and ties. I was wearing a semi-nice shirt and black slacks. Oh well... I wasn't going to speak anyway! Here I am before leaving the house:

So I realised I had left my water in the car, so I went back out to get it, and when I returned there were even more folks there! All dressed in business suits and such. I watched as they all pretty much knew where they wanted to sit, and it reminded me of going to a wedding... I felt that I needed to know which side to sit on (Bride or Groom?). At about that time, Dave walked in and I asked him where he wanted to sit, and we found a spot, near the front. It was nice to be able to see all of the commissioners and their expressions during the proceedings.

There were quite a few things that were 'tabled' and it seemed that some of the Commissioners were tired of hearing about the mundane issues like zoning and annexations. Luckily our issue came up pretty quickly, and then the Mayor said "I believe Mrs. Cole is here tonight, and would like to speak" - Uh..... OH MY! Good thing I had finished my presentation and printed it out (just in case)! Yikes! I was not really mentally prepared to stand up at that podium and give my presentation, but I did it, and by the end, I was comfortable.

Several commissioners had questions, and I answered them completely and politely, and I think to their satisfaction because after all of the discussions had ended, they all said things like "I'm all for it", "I think it's a great idea", and "Let's do it"... practically in unison. I think they were all relieved to be able to talk about something with a little bit of character. There was discussion with the town attorney and the planning folks about drafting the restrictions in a more 'legal' manner, and as I understand it, the issue will be brought up as a public hearing at the next meeting. They're even considering making the ordinance state that you don't have to get a permit at all! Woo Hoo! Overall, I feel very positive about the outcome of this meeting, and hopefully the public hearing will go positively as well.

Once the issue of Backyard Hens was wrapped up and the meeting moved on, someone waved me over to go outside. It was Frank Graff from NBC17 (our local NBC station). He wanted to interview me about the meeting, so we did a quick on-air interview right there in the hallway. He said it would air tonight. I also spoke with reporters from the Wake Weekly, and the Wake Forest Gazette! Before Dave and I left, we met with one of our local supporters, which was really nice! I hope later on to add some video here.

Why all of a sudden, is there such an interest in backyard chickens?

Tonight, The Wake Forest Board of Commissioners meets at 7pm. I will be there to answer any questions they may have, and I fully expect them to make the decision that this issue be put to a public hearing. From what I understand, at a public hearing, supporters and dissenters each have a chance to speak about their opinions. If this occurs, I will be ready with my presentation. I have already contacted as many people I know about this possibility, and hopefully, when the time comes, these local supporters will come out in droves to show their support for changing this ordinance.

In light of the recent newspaper articles, and because of the meeting tonight of the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners, I have sent out an email to those I know to be in support of the issue. I thought it would do our cause some good to have the positive opinions clearly stated and made known to the board and the media. Luckily the Wake Weekly has put a 'button' on their web site asking for opinions, and all of the Town Commissioners have their email addresses right next to their pictures on the Town Website.

Here are just two of the helpful comments that have been sent in to either the Wake Weekly or the Commissioners, and have also been copied to me. Thank you for your support, I'm sure there will be an update after the meeting!


*****
Something I've been asking myself recently is, "Why all of a sudden, is there such an interest in backyard chickens?" As the owners of Wake Forest's only permitted flock of urban poultry, my wife and I talk to people every day who express more and more interest in becoming personal and familiar with their food and where it comes from. As spinach, peppers, and tomatoes are pulled off supermarket shelves due to e.coli and salmonella, how can you blame them?

Backyard chickens hearken to the times when the United States was a nation of producers, not consumers. My friend Mike Thorpe was telling me about an conversation he had with his wife's grandmother. Her father raised pigeons, chickens, and other livestock that fed their family inside the city limits of Buffalo, NY. She said that pigeon meat, called squab, is delicious.

Later on, in the early 1940s, nearly 40% of the US' produce needs were met a nationwide Victory Garden program. Communities and neighbors banded together to turn lawns, parks, and vacant property into productive gardens to help "support the boys over there." Chickens offered an inexpensive herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer for those Victory Gardens.

Can you imagine one third of your family's food coming from a location not more than a mile from your house? It is just as possible today as it was 60 years ago. You can start immediately by purchasing your produce from local farmers at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings.

I believe that urban poultry are the proverbial tip of the iceberg as our nation moves into a paradigm shift away from the devil-may-care consumerism that has driven our spending behaviors for the past 50 years. We're living in a situation where words like localvour and "food, not lawns" are beginning to drive our social consciousness once again. Perhaps it's time to create a new Victory Garden program with interest in backyard chickens as the initial driving force.

Best Regards,
David Bissette

*****

Dear Commissioners,

I am writing to you about the petition you have received requesting that the Wake Forest ordinance against chickens be changed. I believe that it should be changed now, and I'd like to tell you why.

I live in Raleigh, where there is no ordinance against chickens in the city limits, and I have chickens. If you had told me two years ago I would now be raising chickens, I would have laughed. But last year, I visited a city coop for the first time, and I was amazed. The chickens were so quiet, you wouldn’t know they were there. There was no odor, no mess – and free eggs! So I took a class on chicken keeping and got my first chicks in 2007. I now have a flock of 12 and just hatched my first chicks last month. So far, 5 friends who have visited my coop are now backyard chicken owners too.

Some chicken facts that you may not know are that, when properly maintained, chickens do not smell. Their manure dries quickly and makes an excellent fertilizer for lawns and gardens. Chickens do not require a rooster to lay eggs, only to lay eggs that could potentially hatch into chicks. Chickens can be purchased online and safely shipped through the mail when they are just one day old. Chickens can lay up to an egg per day when young. Production slows with age, and may cease around 5-6 years. The average natural lifespan of a chicken is about 8 years. Hens are surprisingly quiet – you could be just a few feet from a chicken coop and never know it. Most people find the clucking sounds they make to be soothing. I also find feeding them and watching them forage and interact to be a great relaxer at the end of the work day.

In May of this year, I participated in the 4th Annual Henside the Beltline Tour d’Coop, a group of 20 backyard chicken coops inside the beltline in Raleigh that are open for the public one day a year. See http://www.kalmialandscapedesign.com/tourdcoop.htm
Over 350 visitors came to my house to tour my coop, and they were amazed just as I once was.

Unlike the first coop I saw, I have an accidental rooster. Before it began crowing and I had to change its name to Quincy, none of my neighbors – even those right next door - knew I had chickens at all. When Quincy began crowing, I was worried that he would disturbing my neighbors and I planned to find him a new home. Then, during the Tour, I was surprised that many of my neighbors told me that they liked hearing him! “Doesn’t he bother you?” I asked. “No,” one neighbor replied, “I love to hear him in the morning. It reminds me of growing up on the farm. P lease don’t get rid of him!” “It reminds me of my grandparents’ farm,” said another, who loved seeing the way her own grandson giggled loudly every time Quincy crowed. I keep my rooster inside his coop at night and until the end of quiet hours in the morning, so his crows are muffled a bit for my neighbors’ benefit. In the year I’ve had him, I’ve never had a complaint about my chickens or my rooster. But I have had lots of compliments!

Perhaps the best way to convince you would be for you to see it for yourself. I would like to invite you to visit my coop in Raleigh. I live near the intersection of Oberlin Road and Glenwood Avenue. Please just email me at ***(has been removed)** to set up a time to visit.

In summary, chickens are great pets and should be allowed in city limits. They cause my neighbors far less disturbance than some of my area’s night-barking, garden-digging, cat-chasing, and lawn-droppings-leaving dogs. They are a wonderful way to teach children about responsibility, sustainability, and the sources of food. They provide nutritional eggs which, like a backyard garden’s produce, are both more delicious and (I believe) more nutritious than what I could buy at the grocery. They eat bugs and provide rich fertilizer. And they are fun and relaxing to own.

I hope that you will overturn the ordinance and allow chickens in Wake Forest. Please feel free to contact me to visit my coop and see for yourself, or to ask any questions you might have.

Thank you for your time,
Julie W.

*****

Thursday, August 14, 2008

On the Agenda, but not speaking...

I found out yesterday that the Wake Weekly was doing another story on the issue of Backyard Chickens in Wake Forest! Leslie Rudd, the reporter from the WW, called me on Tuesday but got my home answering machine - which I don't use very often. I did check the messages yesterday, and called Leslie back immediately. She told me that they had heard our issue was going to be on the agenda for August 19th, and she had talked with the Mayor and the Town Manager. She also told me that it would probably be put to a public hearing, which I hadn't heard before. Here's the article in the Wake Weekly, and then my notes below:

*****
Family eggs on town for urban farm rights
By Leslie Rudd, Wake Weekly Staff Writer
August 14, 2008
Not ones to ignore citizen clucks, the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners agreed to review long-standing livestock ordinances at its Aug. 19 meeting. Renewed interest in urban farming spurred some residents to question the town’s livestock rules. Residents David and Mitzi Bissette are the only family in Wake Forest which successfully completed the annual permit process to keep farm animals (first reported July 17 in The Wake Weekly). The town requires interested residents within town limits to receive written consent to have livestock from every neighbor within 500 feet. The process is different for each applicant, depending on how many neighbors they have. Residents Emily and Mike Cole, while going through the same application, needed the approval of close to 40 neighbors. The Coles couldn’t get everyone’s OK and instead are circulating a petition to change the town’s livestock ordinance to exclude domesticated hens. Mayor Vivian Jones feels the current requirements may be over-reaching. “To notify people within 500 feet — that seems to be a pretty wide range,” she said, noting that rezoning a property requires owners to notify neighbors within only 100 feet away. Extensive media attention and a few feathery visits to the Wake Forest Farmers’ Market have the Coles the talk of the town. Commissioners obliged to Cole’s request to address the board, adding her to the next agenda. Cole presents her case to the board of commissioners Tuesday, at 7 p.m. According to her Web site, wfchickens.blogspot.com, she will ask commissioners to exclude domesticated hens from the list of livestock. She also outlines separate regulations for handling and keeping hens:
•No person shall allow his or her hens to run at large within the corporate town limits
•It shall be unlawful for any person to keep more than 20 hens within the corporate limits of the town
•Hens must be kept a minimum of 30 feet from the nearest residence other than that of the owner, unless the neighbor has given expressed written permission
•Roosters are not permitted within the corporate limits of the town unless written approval is obtained along with the livestock permit.
Cole adds hens may not be used for commercial purposes as well as detailing what kind of coop hens must be kept in. Town Manager Mark Williams said he doesn’t anticipate the board taking any action on the issue next week. “I think at this time they will take her comments under advisement. They may move to hold a public hearing on the issue at a later date.” To date, Cole added over 100 signatures to her online petition. New interest in organic food has Jones considering the full spectrum of the current rules. “A lot of people are more interested in it than they ever have been,” she said. “We don’t make you have approval for dogs that bark. It’s something that we should take a look at.” She does agree a public hearing should be held before any changes are made to the rules. Prospective changes to the livestock ordinance have the Bissette family excited. “I completely support this amendment to the town ordinances,” said David Bissette. “They are currently too restrictive, given the state of the economy and the rising costs of food production. Give us your opinion by clicking on Chickens at http://www.wakeweekly.com/.
*****


Apparently the Mayor seems intrigued by the idea, and some of her comments lead me to believe she's open to the changes. The issue is on the agenda for the commissioners meeting on Tuesday, August 19, at 7pm, and I had been told I would have 5 minutes to do a presentation. I have been working on it all week... I still haven't seen the agenda for the meeting - so I called Town Hall this morning to inquire about it. I spoke with the Town Clerk, Joyce Wilson, who informed me that the issue is item 70? or maybe 17?(Update: I just got the agenda in my email, and it's item 7-D, Ha ha!) She also informed me that I will not be speaking on the issue after all... the Commissioners will discuss it, and decide about having a public hearing. The Town Clerk did recommend that I attend the meeting(duh) in case they want to ask me any questions. I will definitely be there! I will also have my presentation in hand just in case. I have sent out some emails asking for local residents to come support us at the meeting. I hope they won't be disappointed that I'm not scheduled to speak this time. I'm interested to see what comes out of this meeting and hear what the commissioners have to say on the subject.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Our second Farmer's Market visit!

Golden Sebright Bantam Hen

Yet again, the hens attracted a lot of attention at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market this weekend. Folks who were there to peruse the fresh produce, cut flowers, and local honey, also flocked toward the gazebo to see the 6 little bantam hens in the Bissette's chicken ark. I made sure to purchase my 2 jugs of 'front porch' honey and some loaves of bread early in the morning so I wouldn't miss out.


We borrowed some Bantams for visitors to see at the Market. There were 4 different varieties in the coop this time, 2 Seramas, 2 Golden Sebrights, a White Crested Black Polish, and a Spangled Old English Game Hen. Many folks thought the Crested Polish Hen was the neatest looking hen they had ever seen. The question "What's that fluffy-headed one called?" was heard several times Saturday morning. Others remarked about the beautiful plumage on the Golden Sebrights and the white speckled Old English Game Hen. Visitors also remarked about the tiny egg size these Bantam birds lay.


Dave Bissette was often holding one of his friendly Ameracauna hens. He brought 'Skunky' and 'Goldy' for market goers to pet, since the bantam varieties can be a little 'flighty'. Skunky's name surprised many visitors, because she doesn't look (or smell) anything like a skunk. When she was a tiny chick, though, she had a black stripe down her head and back so the Bissette's named her 'Skunky'. She is now one of the most friendly birds in their flock.


We were able to get more than 100 additional signatures on the petition again this Saturday. It was great to see the swell of support for Backyard Chickens in Wake Forest, and many folks were pleased to read a poster listing the suggested amendments that will be presented to the Town Board of Commissioners in the near future. They had to be finalized to be included in the packet I turned in at town hall. I hope they're written with enough 'legalese' to make sense to the Commissioners and the Mayor.
We ARE on the agenda - and we WILL be there to make our presentation to the Wake Forest Board of Commissioners on August 19th. Please come and show your support! The meeting starts at 7pm. (I think I'm going to show up early!)


Suggested amendments and requirements to Code 1985, § 3-26 include: (changes in italics)

DIVISION 2. PERMIT TO KEEP NEAR RESIDENCES
Sec. 6-51. Required.
No person shall stable, tie or otherwise keep within the town, nearer than 500 feet to any dwelling house, apartment or other residence occupied by any person, without first obtaining a permit in writing signed by the town and issued as provided in this division, any of the following types of animals:
(1) Cattle;
(2) Horses;
(3) Mules;
(4) Swine;
(5) Sheep;
(6) Goats; or
(7) Fowl, excluding domesticated hens as stated in Sec. 6-56.

(Code 1985, § 3-26)

(Addition of Sec. 6-56. ) Sec. 6-56. Domesticated Hens.
1) No person shall allow his or her hens to run at large within the corporate limits of the town.
2) It shall be unlawful for any person to keep more than twenty (20) hens within the corporate limits of the town.
3) Domesticated Hens are permitted only in Residential areas with Zoning of R-15 or above.
4) Hens must be kept a minimum of thirty (30) feet from the nearest residence other than that of the owner, unless that neighbor has given expressed written permission.
5) All hen coops and pens must be enclosed on all sides, including the top, using predator proof wire.
6) Enclosures must be clean, dry, and odor free; kept in a neat and sanitary condition at all times..
7) Hen coops and pens must be maintained in an attractive fashion. All coop plan elevations must be submitted to the town permitting office for approval.
8) Hens must be kept in an enclosure or fenced-in area at all times. During daylight hours, hens may be allowed outside of their coop in a securely fenced yard if supervised. Hens shall be secured within the coop during non-daylight hours.
9) It shall be prohibited to raise hens for commercial purposes within the corporate limits of the town without a livestock permit.
10) Processing of animals for personal consumption within public view is prohibited within town limits.
11) Roosters are not permitted within the corporate limits of the town, unless written approval is obtained along with the livestock permit.






Friday, August 8, 2008

Story in the N&O ran today!

Here's the story that ran in the North Raleigh News section of the News and Observer today!
If you're here to sign the petition, please click here!

I think that perhaps some of our neighbors who are in favor of the amended ordinance need to send some letters to Bill Summers and also maybe to our Mayor, Vivian Jones. In the sidebar of the online version of this article is a great link to some more truths about backyard chickens! I hope it will help straighten out some of the misconceptions that are out there!


Urban coops create neighbor quandary
Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, Staff Writer
Staff Photos by Chris Seward
Comment on this story

WAKE FOREST - The Bissette family keeps chickens in their yard across the street from the town's popular Holding Park. The hens help keep bugs away from the Bissettes' organic garden. They've become part of the family of five, just like rabbits and a dog. And soon the hens will be old enough to lay eggs.



About a mile away in the Pineview Estates neighborhood, Emily Cole wants a similar setup for her family. But she's not allowed. Unlike the Bissettes, not all of Cole's 37 neighbors who live within 500 feet signed off on her plan, as a town law requires. So Cole is taking her plight to Wake Forest's board of commissioners. She's scheduled to speak at its Aug. 19 meeting.
Cole hopes to persuade the town to change the ordinance so that residents can keep as many as 20 hens without approval from neighbors.



"I'm just trying to stand up for what I believe in," said Cole, the mom of two and a Brownie troop leader. "I feel like I want to teach my [Brownies] that if they believe in something they can do something about it. I can't talk the talk and not walk the walk."



Concerns about the treatment of chickens at factory farms, the safety of massed-produced food, and the rising cost of just about everything have helped bring chickens into the suburbs.
"In terms of agriculture and growing food, it's easier than gardening," said Rick Bennett, who has kept chickens in his yard in Raleigh's Five Points neighborhood for three years. Bennett said he's watching the chicken debates in other towns with amusement. "Some of the reasons [against it] going around seem a little hysterical," he said. "They're overly worried about opening a Pandora's box without coming by and seeing what's happening."





Neighbors' objections
Across the nation, town and city officials are fielding requests such as Cole's.
Critics worry that the birds are noisy, smelly and unsanitary.
Bill Summers, a Wake Forest planner, said he's not sure the town's rules are strict enough, because residential lots in the town are much closer than when the law was originally drafted.
Summers said he received an anonymous letter from one of Cole's neighbors strongly opposing any plans for chickens nearby. The letter writer was concerned about the noise and feces, especially where waste would go after a storm, he said. "People are really polarized on this issue," Summers said.



Proponents point out that well-kept chickens are quieter and cleaner than most pet dogs.
"I have a daily chicken tour," Bennett said. Parents bring their kids, he said, "because it's a connection with where their food comes from."



Across the Triangle
Elsewhere in the Triangle, Durham officials are considering relaxing rules that ban poultry in most parts of the city. Cary's Town Council voted down a proposal last month to allow the keeping of laying hens. But in other parts of the Triangle, chickens flourish.



Raleigh's rules are among the region's most liberal, allowing chickens in the city limits as long as they don't violate health and nuisance standards. Chicken owners inside the Beltline hold an annual Tour d'Coop, during which visitors can learn more about urban chicken-keepers.
Chickens also are allowed in Chapel Hill and Carrboro.



Poultry blogging
In Wake Forest, Summers said he fields about a call a month from people interested in keeping chickens and other livestock in town. The town requires annual renewal of permits allowing chickens and other livestock -- which means chicken owners must return to their neighbors every year to ask permission. "It guards against things like noise," Summers said. "We are not animal-control professionals. If somebody is going to house animals of this type, they need to have permissions from their neighbors."





And though Summers gets monthly requests about keeping livestock in the town limits, Wake Forest has approved only one permit in the past five years -- for the Bissettes. Dave Bissette wanted to get chickens because he remembered the flock that his father kept when he was a child. Bissette wanted his three girls to have the same experience.



A month ago, Bissette launched http://www.catawbacoops.com/ which chronicles the family's experience getting chickens. His site also sells three to four plans a day for his moveable chicken coops, which are more like cabinets; they range from $15 to $22. "I had no clue that there was this kind of demand for these plans," he said.



No chicken, she
The Bissettes hope Cole is successful. If not, the Bissettes will have to return to their neighbors next year to make sure their permit is renewed.
Cole is not necessarily comfortable in her role as chicken activist. She has started a blog about her experience. But she says she wants what is best for her family, including food Cole believes isn't harmful.





So far, more than 230 people have signed her petition online or at the Wake Forest Farmers Market. She'll be at the market again Saturday. "I got a lot of positive response from my neighbors and a very little bit of negative response," she said. "Since I believe in this idea, I felt I was going to jump in head-first and go after it."


***********************************************

Monday, August 4, 2008

Update! Story to run in the Raleigh News and Observer on Friday!

This Friday:
August 8, 2008 - There will be a story about our issue in the Raleigh News and Observer, North Raleigh Section. I have no idea what photographs will be included, but there was a photographer sent to get some pictures. Mitzi and I talked for quite a while with both the photographer and the reporter, so hopefully there will be a positive reaction to this story.

On Saturday:
August 9, 2008 - We will be at the Wake Forest Farmer's Market again with one of the CatawbaCoops and a few feathered friends. If you're in the area, please stop by and say "hello"! If you haven't done so already, please sign our petition! We will have some information available if you have questions, and hopefully we will be able to dispel any myths you may have heard about backyard chickens.

I have contacted the town clerk, and written the necessary letter asking to be included on the agenda for the Town Commissioner's Meeting on August 19th. I included a packet of information to be distributed to each commissioner which includes information on other towns and city's ordinances, proposed amendments to our existing ordinance, and a FAQ page. I hope this will allow our commissioners to be properly informed before I make the presentation to them on the 19th.

As always, if you have specific questions or comments about backyard chickens, please feel free to leave them here or send an email to wfchickens@live.com. We will do our best to answer your comments and questions completely and quickly.