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!

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