Thursday, June 28, 2012

Letter from a Chicken Activist

I started a Facebook page called "4 Chesapeake Hens." Its fans have been working to change the zoning laws in Chesapeake, Virginia. Currently, property must be zoned agricultural or be a "residential estate" of three acres or more to keep laying hens. Our group wants the city to allow up to six laying hens to be kept in most residential areas. We have even started an online petition that readers can sign.

Our most recent campaign has been "City Council Member of the Week." Each week our group chooses one member of City Council and asks our fan base to make contact to politely explain why we wish to keep hens. I have been emailing our City Council Members and getting no responses at all. So I thought I'd also post my emails here for all to read. Here is my email to our first member, Lonnie Craig:

Dear Lonnie Craig,

I am a resident and newly-registered voter in Chesapeake. I teach Latin at Deep Creek High School. I am also an avid gardener and local-foods enthusiast. I founded a Facebook page called "4 Chesapeake Hens," an online group that has 99 "fans" as I type this: Our group also has an online petition with over 370 signatures from Chesapeake and from all over the U.S. and the world: We are also collecting other signatures out in the community to present to City Council sometime after July 20.

We respectfully request that Chesapeake change its zoning laws to allow single-family residences to keep two to six laying hens as pets. Our main reasons are laid out in our online petition. Due to the poor economy, health concerns about mass-produced and processed foods, ethical concerns about the treatment of hens in battery cages, environmental awareness, and the increasing popularity of the local foods movement, people nationwide want to produce more of their own food at home. More people are vegetable gardening and preserving their harvests. Laying hens, which convert weeds, insect pests, and garden and kitchen scraps into inexpensive, nutritious protein, are the next logical step for those of us who want to save money and support ourselves.

I have posted my own reaction to the memorandum that Andrea Ball Margrave recently received in response to our request at the Chesapeake Town Meeting. You may read it, if you'd like, on my blog: Since yesterday 114 people have read this post. I am starting to publish public reaction and comments on another post: with more to come.

Other information about keeping chickens is available in "Longing for Urban Chickens" and in "How Much Space Do Laying Hens Need?" I will save space by not repeating these words here, but you may read them at your leisure should you care to.

My understanding is that you are open to public input about this issue. Please use the links above as well as other resources at your disposal if you feel the need to learn more about laying hens or what this grassroots movement is about. I highly recommend a book, City Chicks, which explains how laying hens can save the city money by reducing the amount of food waste heading to the landfill: It's also an entertaining and good read.

City Council members such as you, who take the time to inform themselves on this issue, will view the planning department's memorandum as ludicrous, just as other well-informed chicken enthusiasts do. Our group intends to regularly send representatives to City Council meetings, and we would like to see a well-informed public debate by all parties concerned.


Mary Lou Burke

I sent this letter on Sunday, June 17, 2012 at  12:08 PM. To date I have received no reply.

Update: on 6/29/12, I sent this letter to Lonnie Craig at City Hall by certified mail. According to the website, it was received at City Hall on July 02, 2012,  at 12:32 pm. 

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