Some flock to ‘urban farmer’ trend
By Leslie Rudd, Wake Weekly Staff Writer
July 17, 2008
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Gas prices have affected everything from family vacations to food prices. Some Wake Forest residents like Emily Cole are taking matters into their own hands, by getting food from the backyard. Cole wants to offer cheaper, healthier food alternatives for her family. That’s why she is petitioning Wake Forest to allow chickens in the town limits. For Cole, it’s one more way to keep her family “green.”
“Food is coming in from other countries and we don’t know what the (health) regulations are, what the inspection process is. For my family it’s important to know where it comes from and how the animals are treated,” she said. Cole said the inhumane treatment of chickens for commercial production is motivation to change Wake Forest’s current livestock ordinance.
“The majority of the eggs you buy from the supermarket are about a month old ... (chickens are) stuck in a cage roughly the size of a sheet of paper, injected with hormones and fed highly processed food in order to have her lay as many eggs as possible. If a person were treated that way, it would be illegal,” Cole said.
Intent on creating healthier food choices for her family, Cole began Wake Forest’s permit process, which requires the applicant to receive written approval of all residents within 500 feet. “Many have been really excited about this,” she said. “They’re interested in having fresh eggs available to them.”
But not everyone is in favor of Cole’s idea. “It seems like a lot of people are close-minded and don’t want to learn the facts,” she said. Opponents have concerns about offensive odors, the attraction of predators and noise.
The application process is arduous and that keeps most potential urban farmers at bay, said town planner Bill Summer. “The provisions to get the permit are vigorous. Getting written approval from each dwelling within 500 feet ... it’s the thing that always trips people up.”
In Summer’s five years as a town planner, he said he has issued two permits: one for horses and one for chickens. “The chickens are in a very visible place and people that see this become very interested,” he said.
David and Mitzi Bissette were able to sway their neighbors earlier this year to obtain a permit. They have raised 10 chickens for personal use on their South Main Street property. David grew up with chickens in Wake Forest. For Mitzi, it’s been a new endeavor. “They are so much fun and it’s teaching our children responsibility — they have to feed them, give them water every day.”
Bissette daughters, 10-year-old Anna, 7-year-old Katelyn and 5-year-old Sarah, see the chickens as pets. “They love playing with them, petting them and caring for them,” said Mitzi.
The chickens live in urban coops — designed and built by the Bissettes that look something like an ark. The modern cedar coops are covered and mobile. This allows the chickens a new place to peck and prevents any lingering smell. Beyond being a welcome addition to the family, the chickens give the Bissettes peace of mind. “I don’t have to go to the store to buy eggs. But also, I know what I’m feeding my birds and we know they’re healthy,” said Mitzi.
David said the application process wasn’t easy. “It’s highly intensive, which strikes me as odd. They’re no more a nuisance than a barking dogs or traffic.”
The shift from a rural to urban mindset presented a potential barrier for the Bissettes while pursuing neighbors’ approval. “It was normal to have chickens 40 to 50 years ago,” said Mitzi. “We’re only a generation removed from this.
“Our neighbors were very encouraged by the idea. We can’t praise our neighbors enough for being open to this.”
Because the permits are issued annually, there’s no guarantee the Bissettes’ backyard farm will fly with neighbors next year. “All it would take is for one new resident to oppose it,” said Summer.
To keep up the neighborhood’s enthusiasm, the Bissettes said they will send out flyers to correct any issues neighbors have with these feathered friends. They will need to collect 18 signatures by Jan. 1, 2009 to renew the permit.
The reason behind the ordinance is to prevent nuisance animals, and it’s working, said Summer. “It’s effective for what it is. We haven’t had problems with animals at all.”
The Cole and Bissette families hope to shake that “nuisance animal” perspective. “We’d really like to see chickens reclassified as pets,” said David Bissette. “Rabbits, cats, dogs and ferrets can be a lot more annoying.” He asks skeptics to consider the smell and noise these other pets can produce.
Cole is circulating a town-wide petition to amend Wake Forest’s current livestock ordinance by excluding chickens from the definition of livestock.
In the meantime, she and her husband Mike actively teach their children, 6-year-old Taylor Anne and 2-year-old Anderson, how to reduce their carbon footprints.
“We carpool a lot, we use cloth diapers, and I use soft handkerchiefs on the kids at home because we can wash and reuse them. We have a vegetable garden and three compost piles — but we don’t get any complaints about the smell there,” she said.
To read Cole’s online petition for “green eggs” go to www.ipetitions.com/petition/WakeForestChickens.