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Birds and Bees in the ‘Burg? These folks sure hope so.
[What's the big deal about fresh eggs? Reporter Cathy Dyson recently shared perspectives from a few egg farmers. Read her story here. The regional food publication Flavor also recently ran a comprehensive story about the differences among various types of eggs, based on production methods. Find it here.]
She’d love to have a farm, but home for her is Fredericksburg’s Normandy Village neighborhood.
When she started looking into what she calls the “natural next step” in her efforts at self-sufficiency—raising hens for eggs—one major hurdle jumped out at her immediately.
Fredericksburg, like many other cities, outlaws the keeping of any domestic fowl, along with bees.
Gron talked to a few friends who were also interested in being able to have hens—as well as honeybees—within the city limits.
They drew up a petition that is now available at Olde Towne Butcher, Natural Mystics, the Recreation Center restaurant and Read All Over bookshop downtown. It has garnered more than 500 signatures. Gron and others have also been talking to neighbors as they prepare to take the issue to the City Council later this year.
Ordinances prohibiting chickens and bees are common in cities.
In recent years, however, urban chicken- and bee-keeping has gained popularity across the nation, as people seek a closer connection to their food.
Rule changes to allow chickens have been passed in dozens of cities across the country in recent years, and many more are considering them.
The Virginia cities of Charlottesville and Lexington already allow backyard chickens, and chicken-raising clubs have formed in those towns as the practice has become more popular.
Groups in Richmond, Arlington, Alexandria and other Virginia cities are asking their city councils for permission to keep backyard hens.
In Fredericksburg, Gron and her group have already thought through some ground rules.
They are proposing to change the city code to allow a limited number of hens—but no roosters—as long as they are prohibited from running free and kept in humane conditions.
Residents of neighborhoods governed by homeowners’ associations would still be subject to any HOA rules prohibiting these animals.
They’ve suggested adding a minimum distance between coops and neighboring residences.
They think it would be fair to require a license and fee—just like the city requires for dogs—to help with enforcement costs.
But their first goal is just to get the council and the rest of the city talking about the issue.
They’ve started a Facebook page called “Birds and Bees in the ‘Burg,” where they share news about their petition and offer answers to frequently asked questions about raising chickens and bees in an urban environment.
For Gron, the ability to keep backyard hens is primarily about having access to eggs whose origins she knows.
“I know how the animals were raised, I know what went into them and I know the safety of that food source,” she said.
But she also points out several other benefits the birds can bring—controlling bugs, helping keep the yard mowed and providing a waste product that can be used for fertilizer.
The group’s FAQ points out that one 40-pound dog generates more waste than 10 chickens.
Gron and her fellow chicken enthusiasts hope to make a more public push for their issue after the May City Council elections. In the meantime, they can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.