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The Locally Grown Movement Sprouts Feathers

Annapolis’ new chicken ordinance is part of a bigger trend

The census of creatures in our neighborhoods is adding new categories.
    Annapolitan chickens are the latest, as this week Mayor Josh Cohen signed an ordinance welcoming small flocks of hens, but no roosters, on a three-year trial.
    Of course there are conditions, thoughtfully debated by the City Council. You’ll need permission from all homeowners whose property abuts yours; if you’re a renter, your own property owner must agree. If that goes well, you’ll still have to place your coop and attached secure enclosure as far from the property line as your neighborhood zoning requires; five feet is the universal minimum, but it could be more. Your whole chicken yard must also be inspected by the city.
    (Find guidelines walking you through the permitting process at sustainableannaapolis.com.)
    As you’re no doubt aware, Annapolis’ chicken ordinance is part of a bigger trend. Chickens are the latest outpost in America’s return to our farm roots. Their presence is aggressively popping the meniscus of consciousness.
    Down in south Anne Arundel County where I live, chickens are getting to be common as dogs or cats, but in greater numbers. They’re a lovely sight pecking in grass and gravel, often along the roadside because fences won’t contain them.
    So far, I’ve not seen a chicken flattened, as is too often the fate of the wilder creatures with whom we share our land and roads: squirrels, opossums, raccoons, groundhogs, deer, the occasional fox and turtles.
    None of my property-abutting Fairhaven neighbors owns chickens, as an acre is Anne Arundel’s minimum property for chicken-rearing. Calvert’s minimum is three acres. Down the road a mile or so there’s a rooster in the flock. We know that because his cockadoodle-do punctuates the morning. I like the sound better than any alarm clock, and much better than the sounds of heavy traffic and unmuffled racers that are more familiar on our rural roads. But if Mr. Rooster lived next door, I might not enjoy his proximity.
    Proximity is one among dozens of signs that chickens are among us. From one chicken owner, my acquaintance has grown to a dozen. Some are considerable landholders; others raise their flocks in suburban back yards.
    The trend has taken to the Internet, as well: Facebook.com/AnnapolisChickens informs an active community of all the chicken news. Of which there is plenty.    
    Gambrills General Store’s recent Spring Open House highlighted poultry-raising resources, among other back-to-the-earth themes.
    “I think people want to get back to nature and know where their food is coming from,” said storeowner Chuck Kinsey. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of people buying chicks to raise in their backyard, as well as in garden plants and soil. People want to become more self-sustained.”
    Anne Arundel Community College offers a noncredit course in Raising Chickens, WIS-315
 Sustainable Living.
    Homestead Gardens is offering chicken seminars, too.
    At www.healthybirds.umd.edu, the Maryland Cooperative Extension “provides the resources needed to begin raising a small flock as well as improving production of your existing flock.”
    Poster Cindy Shea notes, “a whole rack up front at the library on West Street totally devoted to chickens!!”
    This is more than a grassroots trend: Williams-Sonoma has jumped on the bandwagon and offers an assortment of upscale-rustic chicken coops by mail.
    You don’t have to raise the chickens to enjoy their eggs: while months ago I scratched for local eggs, now I can choose from a half-dozen suppliers.
    Clearly, this is a movement with no end in sight. Home gardens are all very nice, and these are salad days when my spinach, lettuce and herbs are growing faster than I can keep up with. Friends in their own cycle of abundance are offering gifts of lovely bunches of homegrown French breakfast radishes. But gardeners, even master gardeners, are no longer in the avant-garde.
    Even chickens have competition at the forefront of the fresh, local food movement. Emu-egg farmers, dairy-cow managers and meat-animal farmers are also our neighbors and swell the membership of Calvert County’s Eat Local Group. Finding suppliers is easier all the time. You can buy locally grown meat, and often eggs, at My Butcher and More in Annapolis, Homestead Gardens in Davidsonville and Spider Hill Farm in Prince Frederick — and that’s a short list.
    But for now in Annapolis, don’t plan to step up to ducks, turkeys goats or beef cattle. Chickens are the only allowable livestock.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
editor@bayweekly.com