Thursday, August 23, 2012

City Chicks in Chesapeake!

  Through a Facebook page called 4 Chesapeake Hens, I've been organizing a grass-roots network to change the zoning laws in Chesapeake, Virginia, to allow more residents to keep laying hens as pets. Current zoning allows chickens only on land zoned agricultural or on three-acres "residential estates." Recently the City Council voted to send the "hen issue" to the Planning Commission for review and a recommendation with only one "no" vote, as explained in prior posts.

The Planning Commission will review the matter as early as its regular meeting on Wednesday, October 10. On October 9, Patricia "Pat" Foreman, the author of City Chicks: Keeping Micro-flocks of Chickens as Garden Helpers, Compost Makers, Bio-recyclers, and Local Food Producers, will appear at the Chesapeake Central Library as part of her East Coast Book Tour.

Pat graduated from Indiana University with a Masters of Public Administration.  She went on to graduate school and received her BSC both from Indiana, and then from Purdue University, where she majored in Animal Science, Genetics and Nutrition.  She is both an author and licensed pharmacist. We've been told her lectures are fascinating.

During this lecture, she will explore the role chickens play in the following four subjects:
  • Enhancing Backyard Agriculture
  • Diverting Food and Yard “Waste” Out of Landfills
  • Decreasing Oil Consumption and Lowering Carbon Footprints
  • National Defense & Emergency Preparedness

Our group has gotten positive media coverage in the past from the Virginian Pilot, the Chesapeake Clipper, and WTKR News Channel 3. Reporter Marjon Rostami, in a recent article in the Clipper, pointed out that "dozens" of our supporters came to a recent City Council meeting decked in red, the color of the "Little Red Hen." 

"4 Chesapeake Hens" at City Council

We've been told that one of our key roles in the community should be to educate the public, and we are doing just that. We have invited our media contacts, the City Council, the Planning Commission, and others to Pat's highly educational, interesting, and well-informed lecture. If you would like to help, please attend our event, distribute flyers, and encourage others to do the same. Books for the book-signing portion of the event must be purchased in advance of the event. Tickets are limited and available for a donation to the Gossamer Foundation but must be acquired in advance through this website:

If the media took notice of a few dozen supporters, imagine the kind of attention our cause will get at an event of over 200 people that sells out! Please, help us make that happen!

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Parting Words from Dr. De Triquet

Despite his "no" vote recently on our "hen issue," I am getting to like this City Council Member better and better. Here are his parting words to me on my response to his rationale for this vote, as reported in previous posts:

I received your detailed and very well reasoned and articulate support of the proposed resolution. What I've learned over the years as a physician and an elected official is that all arguments or information must be carefully weighed before making a final decision. Please be assured that I will do the same with yours.

On another note I want to assure you that I have not, and will not, lobby any of my fellow Councilmembers to support any opinion I may finally reach on this issue. Let every member study the issue and vote as he or she sees fit. Hopefully then the outcome will be reached in a fair and unbiased manner.

John De Triquet's "No" Vote Explained

I belong to a grass-roots organization, 4 Chesapeake Hens, that is trying to change local zoning laws to allow more residents to keep micro-flocks of laying hens.  At Chesapeake, Virginia's, last City Council Meeting, only one Council Member voted against Robert Ike's resolution to move the "hen issue" to the Planning Commission. That member was Dr. John De Triquet.

I took the liberty of emailing Dr. De Triquet regarding his rationale for the "no" vote. Here is his timely and well-considered response:

First let me compliment you and everyone who has addressed City Council on this item. Everyone made their case with clarity, courtesy, and civility. It was very refreshing since this is not always the circumstance.
  Let me address the issue at hand. I have always felt that when folks choose to live in neighborhoods they have certain expectations. Paramount in those expectations is that new activities which may run counter to those expectations will be critically considered before any changes are made. I think that before any changes in allowable activities in residential neighborhoods are approved, there should be a clear and overarching public need or interest.
  I've been very consistent with this opinion over the years. I've not supported allowing home beauty salons, lawn mower repair, and many other activities in residential areas. In fact at the next Council Meeting a request is being made to allow a home salon in a residential area. I intend to vote against this request.
  I hope this in some way explains my position. As I hope you can see it really is not predicated on anything specific to a few hens in the back yard. It is, however, based on my overall responsibility to preserve and protect the expectations of homeowners in residential areas.
  Having said this, should City Council approve your request I wish you and all your friends the very best in this activity that I know you all love.

 At least we understand his point of view now. I have posted my response to his letter in a follow-up post.

 Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas. De Triquet was one of the three Council members who voted against the ordinance. The others were Council Members West and Ritter.

The Lone "No" Vote and The Chicken Activist's Response

Here is my own response to Council Member De Triquet's email, which I reported in my last post. My sincere belief is that if he puts time into researching this issue, he will change his mind. And if this message fails to nudge him in that direction, perhaps nothing will:

Thanks for your clear response. I certainly now understand your point of view.

In my own eyes there's a difference between moving to a residential area and moving to one that has a homeowners' or residential association. When I lived in Elizabeth City, I lived within the city limits. In that city, which is just as urban as Chesapeake in certain sections, hens are considered neither pets nor livestock but poultry.

Although livestock is not permitted in the city, poultry is. Residents can keep up to three hens (no roosters) with restrictions regarding noise, odor, and keeping the hens out of roads and on one's own property. I volunteered with the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals there, and very rarely did Animal Control need to bring in chickens. They are not much of a problem. But since my home used to be in a location with a homeowners' association, and this association prohibited chickens, I followed the bylaws.

If homeowners have such deeply held convictions about not having hens near their residences, these residents can live in areas with such restrictions. It's a free country, and the proposed zoning law will not remove residential associations and their restrictions. But the rest of us should be able to feed ourselves, fertilize our gardens, improve our soil, improve our health, fight pollution, and prepare for disasters or other local emergencies as we see fit, assuming we are not impinging on our neighbors. With hens we can do all these things to improve our community. And our proposed ordinance will give the (sic) Chesapeake a law with teeth that can address any rare instances where residential chickens present a nuisance due to owners' negligence.

In our view, there is "a clear and overarching public need or interest" that our proposed ordinance will address. Society's needs and expectations change over time, as this 1918 advertisement by the U.S. Government proves. Research shows that we now live in a world with drastic climate change, the threat of bio-terrorism, increased population density, increased pollution, health and nutritional challenges, and imminent peak oil. Hens and local foods are an important part of the solution. This is certainly the view of Patricia Foreman, a Cornell-educated (sic) author and lecturer who plans to appear in Chesapeake sometime in the coming months.  The City of Chesapeake, led by intelligent and well-informed City Council Members such as yourself, should therefore take a proactive stance by supporting the urban agriculture movement in general and our proposed ordinance in particular.

I fear I am belaboring the issue. If you follow up on my assertions, you will find selected readings and research available on Google Docs through this link. After researching these issues for yourself, if you still disagree, we will simply have to agree to disagree.

Update on 8/20/12: I doubled-checked the "About the Author" information in City Chicks, and Pat was educated at Purdue in Indiana. Ow! My apologies, Pat!

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas. De Triquet was one of the three Council members who voted against the ordinance. The others were Council Members West and Ritter.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Initial Victory 4 Chesapeake Hens

There's been a lot of excitement around here! Our group, 4 Chesapeake Hens, has been trying to change the zoning laws in Chesapeake to allow more residents to have backyard laying hens. On Tuesday, Councilman Robert Ike presented a resolution asking that the "hen issue" be referred to the Planning Commission. This was the first time our concerns have been an actual agenda item. Our group showed up in red T-shirts to show our support. All-told we probably had close to thirty supporters there:

4 Chesapeake Hens at City Council
Several members of our group spoke in favor of the resolution, as did one other resident. If you'd like to watch the speeches, go to this video and forward to about 2:09. I presented our online and handwritten petitions and our suggestions for a zoning ordinance, which I forgot to mention in my speech! We modified them from a proposed ordinance we found online that I later learned was adopted by Amherst, Massachusetts.

Ike's resolution was adopted, with the lone "no" vote coming from Vice Mayor John de Triquet. Next the  the Planning Commission will study whether changes should be made to the zoning laws regarding chickens.

We feel excited about it. We're making progress.

Now we are figuring out what to do next to keep the momentum going. Pat Foreman, the author of City Chicks, has offered to help us. Among other things, she is willing to make Chesapeake a stop on her next East Coast Book Tour. We will be happy to work with her!

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Burial in an Eco-Eternity Forest

Mother Earth News gets me into all kinds of trouble. After reading an article about green burials several years ago, I decided that a green burial sounded right for me. When I pass away, I want to have a minimal impact on the environment as well as my survivors' wallets.

So back in 2008 I did some sleuthing on the internet and found the Eco-Eternity Forest at Makemie Woods, a campground and woods owned by the Presbyterian Church. The Eco-Eternity Forest is an alternative to traditional burials.

I like the spot for several reasons. It is less than a 2-hour drive from home. To help preserve the forest, you lease a tree. A forester has picked certain trees that are likely to be around a while: the lease of the tree is for 99 years. According to the brochure, the "ashes of the deceased are laid to rest at the roots of a tree in the mature woodlands...Over time, the tree will absorb the nutrients of the ashes converting the tree into a living memorial." This is life-affirming to me.

I also like the flexibility and affordability of leasing a tree. The Eco-Eternity Forest welcomes pets, and not just when visiting the grounds. You can have the cremains of your pets actually buried with you. You can either lease an individual plot--very inexpensively!-- under a "community tree," or you can lease a "family tree." And the person who leases the latter gets to decide what "family" means. "Family" could include extended family members, friends, or even pets! And while leasing a tree costs $4,500 or more, you can bury up to 15 family members there, and the cost of the biodegradable urns is even included.

Mike Burcher, the Director of Makemie Woods, gave us a tour. The grounds are rustic and campground-like, not much like a park. There's a chapel on-site for Christian services. The setting will appeal to those who love hiking, nature, camping, and the woods. I honestly don't like camping very much, but I do love all the rest. And the specific spot we went to is really beautiful, surrounded on three sides by water from a reservoir.

Most of the trees available to lease in that part of the forest are beech trees. But today I decided to lease a black oak near the waterfront. Don and I have a love of trees and especially oak trees. There is a huge one ( a different species) in our front yard. It's home and food for all kinds of animals and is a sturdy and long-lived tree. There will be a little memorial plaque on the tree (instead of a tombstone) to help friends an family find it, and the grounds can be available for picnics, etc.

Don isn't sure how he feels about all this, but he and Aqua came along for a ride today and enjoyed the grounds. Mike took a picture of all three of us in front of my tree:

Don, Aqua, and I at my newly-selected black oak tree at Makemie Woods

Matthew, my son, seems OK with the idea. I hope the rest of the family is as understanding. Time will tell!

**Update on 7/30/14: The family so far has been fine with the idea. The dear old dog in the picture, recently died of a combination of old age, kidney failure, and snake bite. We had her cremated, found our tree, and put our ashes there. We strongly suggest getting a good GPS coordinate on your tree, if you choose to lease one, to make it easier to find the spot again. R.I.P., sweet Aquaphilia!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Garden update for August

The garden is looking pretty this August. I wish it were more productive. We are not getting enough sun for the fruiting plants like tomatoes and peppers. Don promises to take down more of the offending tree(s) when the weather gets cooler. I wish he'd done it in the spring!

I picked out a rotten log and put soil in it. I planted basil, radishes, and lettuce seeds in it, both to hold the soil and to look pretty. These plants have pretty shallow roots, so I am hoping they will survive there.

The asparagus is thriving, but the bush beans have gone by. I've planted more. They grow fast, and Don loves them.

The asparagus looks pretty

 Our experiment with trellising butternut squash turned out OK.

Trellising butternut squash to save garden space

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Chesapeake Clipper: The Chicken Activist Responds

I emailed this response to the Chesapeake Clipper, our local newspaper, in response to an opinion piece that appeared in today's paper:

Dear Chesapeake Clipper:

I represent a community group, "4 Chesapeake Hens." I am writing to express disappointment in a recent opinion piece, "Rezoning for Chickens would be a Step Back for the City." The writer, Tony Stein, writes on the basis of his childhood reminiscences of our community. A local newspaper should offer articles based on facts and on what is best for the city, not based on one writer's childhood reminiscences. Stein writes that his objection to chickens is "image-minded and snicker-shy."

If he had done even any preliminary research, those concerns would be settled in favor of our group's petition.

Stein seems to recognize that "4 Chesapeake Hens" does not desire to go back to the days when "there were chickens wandering along the edge of" Battlefield Boulevard. In fact, our proposed ordinance would allow  residents, not just those who own three-acres (sic) residential estates, to keep a micro-flock of up to six laying hens with NO noisy roosters allowed. And the hens would have to be firmly enclosed on the owner's own property, NOT wandering in public spaces along the sides of roads. To suggest otherwise misrepresents our intentions.

Contrary to the author's dire predictions, an ordinance that allows laying hens will make Chesapeake a more desirable location to live, an improvement of its "image." What is positive about the image of a community that will not allow residents to use their own property as they see fit, especially upon activities that impinge in no way upon their neighbors?

Our proposal will also keep food and yard waste out of our landfills, save the city money, and help residents to feed themselves. Does your author know that, in times of weather-related or other national disasters, our local supermarkets only carry three to four days' worth of food for the local community to purchase? And this estimate assumes no panic-buying! Gardening, "laying by," and backyard hens will actually sustain lives in times like these. Unlike in the 1970s, modern urban residents desire to eat locally due to the green movement, health considerations, and economic concerns. Our petition is part of a forward-looking, national, and growing movement.

And major cities allow hens. Our state capitol, Richmond, is considering a proposal to allow residences to keep chickens, with a possible vote as early as this September. Even metropolitan New York City permits chickens in places like Brooklyn and the Bronx. In short, our proposed ordinance will make Chesapeake seem more forward-looking than its neighbors, more in touch with its residents' needs and desires, not backward or snicker-inducing at all. In your author's words, hens will be a "touch of rural charm that still tones life in Chesapeake."

We will not go so far as to describe your author, in his words, as "a dumb cluck," but we hope that both he and your publication will actually do some research before addressing this issue again. Our own document,, would be a great place to start.

Mary Lou Burke
4 Chesapeake Hens

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

Update: On November 26, 2013, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to make the "hen ordinance" permanent. Tony contacted me to do a follow-up piece for the Clipper, saying he's changed his mind and  wants to write a piece with a positive slant. It takes a great reporter to admit he was wrong. I can't wait to meet him!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Critical Moment 4 Chesapeake Hens

As many readers know, I have founded a community group, "4 Chesapeake Hens," which is trying to get the zoning laws changed in Chesapeake, Virginia. Current laws allow laying hens on land zoned agricultural or on "Residential Estates" of three acres or more. Our group finds these laws unnecessarily restrictive!

If you agree, and you live near Chesapeake, Virginia, here are some things you can do to help:

1. "Like" our Facebook page. This is the easiest way to stay abreast of our group's activities.

2. Contact our Mayor and Members of Council. Politely and respectfully let them know why you feel changes are needed. Contact information is available online. Please be aware that Councilman Robert Ike is already 100% in our corner.

3. Mark your calendars for 6 PM on Tuesday, August 14. Come to the Chesapeake City Council meeting, dressed in red. Sit with our group, and make your wishes known by being visible! If you would like to speak, sign up before 6:30 PM, and plan on three minutes. You might get five if there are few speakers, but there's no guarantee. If you sign up on time, you will get three minutes, guaranteed.

Councilman Ike has given us notice that council will be referring the "Hen" issue to the planning commission the night of August 14th.  Let's get our presentations ready for that meeting..... If they don't recommend approval, we are probably dead in the water!

Update on 8/6/12: Patricia Foreman, author of City Chicks, has pledged to do all she can to help us!

Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Chicken Activist's Letter to Her Vice Mayor

 Dear Vice Mayor John de Triquet,

I am contacting you as part of the leadership team of a community group called "4 Chesapeake Hens." We request changes in the zoning laws to allow more residents to legally own up to six laying hens on residential property. This would be good for Chesapeake families, especially children.

I am sure you are aware of the rising problem of obesity linked to poor nutrition, excessive consumption of processed foods, and a sedentary lifestyle. As an educator, I see  students increasingly suffering from diet-related issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure, which affects not only their current health and academic focus in the classroom, but even their potential life spans. This is the first generation in U.S. history that is expected to live a shorter lifespan, on average, than the one before it.

So-called "nature deficit disorder" is  part of this problem. When we were children, we regularly went outside for unstructured play: climbing trees, exploring local farms and ponds, and playing impromptu games like kickball in our yards. Our parents cooked for us. Many of today's children are spending those hours in sedentary activities like watching television or playing computer games. They are eating meals from take-out restaurants or from packages of sodium-laden, processed foods that are unwrapped and popped in a microwave. As a teacher, I have taught middle-school students who were completely unaware that the sunflower seeds they like to sneak into class to nibble on actually came from real flowers. They had never even seen a real sunflower.

Backyard laying hens will not solve all these problems, but these old-fashioned backyard pets may be a step in the right direction. They are easy to care for, so children can have the responsibility of heading outside every morning to help take care of the family pets. And children find delight in the miracle of seeing a pet turn grain and kitchen scraps into eggs. They will learn early biology lessons that will help them make connections in school.Our hope is that more children will take a greater interest in 4-H activities and in eating fresh, local foods as a result of their interaction with their birds.

And the eggs of well-tended hens will be healthier than the cheap ones mass-produced on factory farms. The recall of 500 million eggs in 2010 ( should be incentive enough to source eggs more locally and on a smaller scale.

Yes, chickens can carry salmonella, but careful hand-washing after handling hens or eggs will greatly reduce the risk of transmission. Therefore parents will have an opportunity to teach children some important hygiene lessons along with biology and the responsibility of animal husbandry. Hens rarely bite, and even more rarely draw blood, and they pose no risk of transmitting rabies or cat scratch fever, unlike dogs or cats.

Please support "4 Chesapeake Hens'" efforts to liberalize the zoning laws to allow more laying hens in residential yards. Our community's parents and children will thank you for it.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

FoodCorps, and a Great Thai Restaurant, Close to Home!

Jade and Matthew relaxing after dinner
I am excited to learn that Jade Salzman, a young neighbor of ours, plans to devote a year of her life to FoodCorps. Don and I invited her and her family to dinner at a great local Thai restaurant, "Jasmine Thai Cuisine," to hear more. Jade, like me, is vegetarian, so we shared a delicious "Pad Thai Tofu" while we swapped stories. The venue was perfect for a good meal at fair prices within walking distance of our homes. And the atmosphere was cozy and quiet enough that we could hear each other talk.

Her mission, according to the organization's website, will be to:

 Teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from

Build and tend school gardens

Bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias

This guy loves to cook. Service with a smile!

For good food and fair prices, eat here
How wonderful! She gets to take the roll-up-your-sleeves, can-do public service attitude I wrote about in my "growing gardening" post and take it to a whole new level. She'll be fighting the epidemic of childhood obesity and related diseases at the same time. Although she'll be working in a tough, urban environment, I know she's up to the job. Her young energy and enthusiasm are contagious!

I donated a digital camera to her efforts, in the hope that she can use it to promote the organization's work and to help get the kids engaged in their new gardening and nutrition lessons.

Go, Jade!

Jasmine Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon