Sunday, January 12, 2014

Beginning Thoughts for the Hampton Roads Coop Tour

This Little Red Hen is Ready to Step out in Style!

4 Chesapeake Hens and other chicken groups in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia are in the beginning stages of planning a coop tour. A coop tour is like an open house, but it's for visitors of chickens and their coops rather than the owners' homes. Our group hosted a local tour in Chesapeake last year and had a lot of fun. This year we would like to make it more regional. We also plan to make it a benefit fundraiser for a great regional group that is in need of financial support right now: Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Hampton Roads.

Our first meeting, on January 9, hosted dynamic leadership from both Portsmouth and Chesapeake. Sharon Jackson represented Portsmouth Hen Keepers, Wendy Camacho and Danielle Rawls represented Hampton Roads Hens, and my husband, Don, and I represented 4 Chesapeake Hens along with Saad Ringa, our groups' highly esteemed computer guru. Saad is also the regional documentary-keeper for all things chicken when it comes to City Council meetings, as can be seen by the various speeches preserved on his YouTube Channel.

This is what we decided at our meeting.
  1. The name of the event will be the "Hampton Roads Coop Tour." We will encourage the use of a chicken on all flyers and other publicity about the event, so the public realizes we are touring chicken coops and not a type of car.
  2. Our intention is to host the event from 11 AM to 4 PM on Saturday, May 24th, with Saturday, May 31st as a rain date.
  3. Our group intends to charge a $5.00 per carload non-refundable minimum donation to "Buy Fresh, Buy Local, Hampton Roads" for tickets to attend the event. We are hoping that BFBLHR will sell the tickets directly to the public online, perhaps through Eventbrite, as well as help us spread the word about the event online and through news releases. The use of Eventbrite should allow BFBLHR to post a couple of reminders about the event in the week(s) and day(s) leading up to the tour, as well as to message ticket-holders regarding inclement weather, if needed. They should also be able to send out a link to all ticket-holders with the exact locations and addresses of all the coops on the tour (see below).
  4. There was a little confusion on last year's tour with people showing up at someone's house on the wrong date. Furthermore, if this event goes as regional as we would like, there may be more coops available, and more spread-out coops, than what is possible to see in the space of five hours. To address those issues, we will post descriptions of the coops on the tour and the general location or region, but the exact addresses will only be available to paid ticket-holders through a link sent on the Monday before the event, i.e., Monday, May 19. Ticket-holders should have enough information to plan out their tours in advance regarding region(s) to visit, or types of coops they desire to see, so they can use their time efficiently on the day of the tour and see the coops that most interest them.
  5. So far chicken-keepers in Portsmouth and Chesapeake have committed to this event. Sharon will take the lead in organizing the Portsmouth portion, and Wendy and Mary Lou will lead the Chesapeake efforts. But the tour can expand into other regions of Hampton Roads if leaders come forward to take charge of surrounding regions. Such leadership should be familiar with backyard chickens and will be in charge of being a general contact person, generating local publicity, answering questions, being familiar with local ordinances regarding chicken-keeping, seeing that materials are distributed to coop owners as needed, bringing potential problems to Mary Lou or Wendy, and helping Saad gather the data he needs to put together the coop descriptions, related map, addresses, etc. This sounds like a lot but can be done as part of a regional effort.
  6. The issue of illegal coop-owners possibly wanting to be on the tour was raised. Mary Lou said that several people who committed to the Chesapeake Tour last year backed out close to the tour date, which was confusing and unfair to those who wanted to go on the tour plus frustrating for the event's organizers. Part of reason was cold feet on the part of homeowners when the reality hit that strangers, including potentially influential people, such as members of the media or area City Council, would be showing up on the tour. But many who backed out stated that they suddenly realized their coops were not 100% legal: the coop was too close to the property line, they had more hens than the legal limit, etc. This year, we plan to emphasize that signing up for the coop tour is a commitment, including for the rain date if necessary, and that participants are responsible for ensuring they have the dates set aside and are in compliance with local ordinances before signing their coops up for the tour.
  7. Some coop owners had asked about a separate tour for coop owners to view each others' coops. The consensus at the meeting is that we would not do so this year. It is complicated enough to organize one event without organizing two. Most coop-owners in the region can contact each other through social media and arrange private tours of coops they are interested in seeing.
  8. Some have raised the issue of Biosecurity for the flocks participating on the tour. We felt we should take precautions just in case. Wendy said she has a contact that can recommend good shoe coverings at a reasonable price and will get us the details. The idea is to require visitors to each property to put on the shoe coverings before visiting the flock and then to leave the shoe coverings for the next group of visitors to re-use. This way, each flock's poop will stay on that flock's property and greatly reduce the chance of spreading disease from flock to flock. Coop owners will also be required to have hand sanitizer at each location and to encourage visitors to use it.
  9. Regarding publicity, Sharon said she would make up a flyer for the event as soon as the details are finalized with BFBLHR. Wendy said she would help distribute them at "Chicken 101" educational events and possibly at the Chesapeake Jubilee if she can get a table.
  10. Saad Ringa will help organize the computer end of the event for our groups, particularly managing the maps, contact information, etc., for those who decide to sign up their coops for the tour. Saad will probably use online forms for this purpose.
  11. If BFBLHR is interested, our coop owners will probably be willing to distribute materials for them to help raise awareness about the organization and about all the great local foods available in our region. All we would need is to receive those materials well enough in advance of the tour.
We are still waiting on a final decision from BFBLHR's Board of Directors about this event, but initial signs are that they are interested in partnering with us.

Update on 1/27/14: We got the go-ahead from the Board of Directors. If you live in the area and wish to sign your coop  up for the tour, check out this post.

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