Sunday, December 15, 2013

Year of the Chicken

So here we are, in the final stretch of 2013. It's been a good year, with lots of good things that happened. My daughter graduated from high school. My son got his learner's permit. We saw lots of family and friends this year, and went hiking in Colorado. And--which brings me to the title of this blog--Champaign legalized the keeping of backyard hens.

When 2013 began, I was already thinking of chickens. I had been wanting to keep hens for a while: our Urbana neighbors have long been able to keep chickens, and I couldn't understand why Champaign didn't allow it. In March, I took a class on chicken-keeping with Colleen Wagner from Common Ground Food Co-Op, and that made me more determined than ever to get the Champaign municipal code changed to allow backyard hens.  I figured it would be a lot more significant if I were able to show that other people wanted this change as well, so I asked the folks at the Co-Op if I could set up a table there and collect signatures.

It was great to talk with people at the Co-Op, since most people who shop there understood why I would want to keep a few hens for egglaying. I heard from lots of chicken-keepers and neighbors (and egg beneficiaries!) of chicken-keepers, and collected more than 100 signatures. Armed with my petition, I visited the April 2 meeting of the Champaign City Council, and during the public comment session, I stood up and made the following statement:

My name is Karen Carney, and I live at 1009 W. Park Avenue. Twenty-eight years ago,  I moved here from Cleveland OH to attend graduate school at the University of Illinois. I earned two degrees there, and work there now as a college dean. I met and married my husband here in Champaign.  Both of our children were born here, and both attend Champaign public schools. We’ve made many friends here, and I really love my life here in Champaign.

There’s just one thing. You see, I’d like a few chickens. Not a whole flock--just a few, that I would keep in a small enclosure in the backyard. Just a few, to enable my family to have fresh eggs anytime and maybe have a few eggs left over to share with the neighbors. But unfortunately, the Champaign municipal code prohibits people from keeping backyard chickens. The same ordinance, by the way, also outlaws backyard lions, tigers, and bears.

Now, I don’t want any of those. I don’t even want a rooster--you don’t need one to have fresh eggs. The funny thing is, I could raise a whole hutch full of rabbits in my backyard if I wanted to. I could have any number of large dogs, any one of which would produce more noise and more waste in one day than my three chickens would in a week. But right now, despite the fact that I’m a homeowner and a taxpayer and a voter and an all-around pretty organized and responsible person, I can’t have three little chickens in my backyard in Champaign.

Many other communities across the nation have passed ordinances allowing folks to keep a few backyard hens. These communities recognize that people might want backyard hens for the same reasons they want to grow their own vegetables or to buy from local farmers--because there are personal and societal benefits to eating locally. These communities include Naperville, Winnetka, Oak Park, Evanston, Chicago, Carbondale, Milwaukee, Ann Arbor, Iowa City, just to name a few. Some of these ordinances place no restrictions on backyard chickens or their coops. Some allow hens (but no roosters) and specify that they must be kept in an enclosure (no free-range chickens).

So am I the only Champaign resident who dreams of keeping a few chickens? Here are the signatures of more than 100 people I’ve personally talked with, all of whom signed this petition asking you to reconsider this issue. They and I respectfully request that you conduct a study session as a first step to revising this ordinance. Let’s allow Champaign to join other communities that recognize that it’s a reasonable thing for residents to keep a few chickens for egglaying. Just not lions and bears.

How did they respond? I'll save that for my next post.