Saturday, March 29, 2008

My Introduction

Two years ago the Boston Globe published an article about raising chickens in an urban setting. There were pictures of mail-order coops, happy poultry owners and their chickens, and beautiful eggs. I was hooked.. but some background.

My oldest step-daughter, Sharon, raises chickens in upstate New York on a 27 acre farm where she has a huge vegetable garden, has run a successful CSA, and with her husband Eric, has 4 wonderful boys under 8. It's a busy life and they are working hard at sustainable living. Unlike Sharon, her mother, Naomi,and I live in Beverly, MA, a city of 35,000 20 miles north of Boston, where we raised Sharon and her sisters. We have a lovely 100 year old house in downtown Beverly, in the Prospect Hill section, where we can walk downtown or to the beach in a matter of minutes. Hardly a farm..

We raise vegetables at the local community garden (our yard is too shady) and enjoy the simple pleasures of watching the world go by on our front porch. Chickens were never in the picture...

But as time went on and I spent more time at Sharon's and sampled the delight of free range eggs I began to think it might be fun to have a few chickens of our own. Great eggs, animals that would eat the bugs in the yard, and all that free compost! A no-brainer! Except that Naomi was dead set against it. I showed her the Boston Globe article, and the answer was a firm NO.

I'll spare you the details but let's say it took me a full year to convince her that getting chickens was a good idea. In the end, she agreed to give it a try, mostly because she wanted me to be happy... She hasn't regret her decision...

So how did we make this happen in a city where chickens aren't exactly running around in most yards? The first stop was to pick Sharon's brain and search the internet for what others were doing. I soon found out that some municipalities have no rules on poultry and some have definite regulations. I needed to see what regulations Beverly had so headed off to City Hall in January 2007. I was immediately sent to the Board of Health where they gave me an application and told me that with $25, a plot plan, and the blessing of the Animal Control Officer m application would be presented to the Board of Health who would make a final decision.

I was quite discouraged when I met with the Animal Control Officer, especially when he learned I lived 'downtown' and not in one of the more suburban neighborhoods. An 8000 sq. ft. lot is not that big and he was concerned there wouldn't be enough space for the coop. He told me that the abutters had to approve of me getting chickens and that would go a long way in getting me approved.

So, on Super Bowl Sunday, 2007, I visited al my abutters, and presented my case. I also gave them a letter outlilning my plan with some 'facts and figures' about home poultry raising. For the neighbors I knew really well I baked some chicken shaped cookies (hey, who said I had to play fair!) to make my case. Without an exception everybody was excited and encouraged my plan.

With this vote of approval and renewed hope, I had the Animal Control Officer, Jim Lindley, visit my house on a cold Februrary day. I presented my plan, showed him my plans for the coop, and told him all my neighbors supported the chickens. With that information he gave me the clearances for the coop placement, discussed waste disposal (I was composting), and told me that the Board would make the fnal decision at my March hearing. But having abutter approval was really key and that my application looked good.

And that is exactly what happened.. at the March hearing I presented my case and reviewed my plan. I was asked a few questions and a week later I received my certificate to keep 4 chickens. Six weeks later the chicks arrived and my life hasn't been the same since! Next time I'll talk about 'the girls'...