Wednesday, December 30, 2009

2009 Urban Chickens Year in Review

By most accounts, 2009 is the year urban chickens, the phenomenon, the trend, the craze, hit the mainstream.

During the first half of the year, news outlets across the country were reporting every other day on this "new craze" for keeping chickens in your backyard. Just on this blog, I've shared links to stories on ABC, NPR, CBC Radio, CBC Television, Marketplace, CNN and NBC's Today Show so we're not talking personal testimonies in small-town dailies here.

The year 2009 also saw the long-awaited release of the Mad City Chickens movie, followed by producers Tashai and Robert's cross-country screenings tour, lending more weight to local efforts to legalize chickens in back yards. If nothing else, Mad City Chickens galvanized the movement, providing a readily-accessible, highly educational and imminently entertaining re-introduction to why we keep chickens in our backyards (and why others should, too).

All the media exposure may have contributed to the shortage of chicks during the Spring, with people having to wait months to get their peepers. Large hatcheries took advantage of the seller's market and prices for immediate-delivery chicks rose accordingly. Feed and fuel stores that took six weeks to sell 800 chicks in years past sold out within ten days this year. (I expect a repeat in 2010, but my predictions post will appear here Friday). This demand could also explain why this year's most popular blog post was "where to buy baby chicks."

While national pres coverage piqued interest in keeping chickens, local frustrations flared with people trying to find out whether they could keep urban chickens and, if not, then trying to get chickens legalized within city limits. It seems the keeping of chickens is a strong indicator of a small city's evolution from rural to urban status, and in the surge 40-50 years ago to urbanize, many anti-chicken ordinances were put on the books.

Looking across the landscape, the urban chicken laws are inconsistent when they're on the books, and open to interpretation depending on with whom you speak at city hall when you call to inquire. To try and address the issue of where are chickens legal, I've recently launched the Urban Chickens Network Legal Resource Center, and you'll see more about that in early 2010.

2009 saw lots of success in getting chickens legalized across the country. The folks in Asheville, NC, did a masterful job of using social media to successfully pass a new ordinance allowing urban chickens. Among the places we saw celebrations happen: Huntington (NY), Gulfport (FL), Vancouver (BC), New Haven (CT), Longmont (CO) and Provo (UT).

The fight to legalize urban chickens remains an uphill battle in many places, but we're getting better at busting the myths about bad things in keeping chickens (too much poop, spreading bird flu, enforcement costs, hosting salmonella). And we're getting smarter at knowing how to change the laws.

And thanks to success stories like that in Fort Collins (CO), where they celebrated a year of legal urban chickens in 2009, we can see that many of the fears expressed by those seeking to keep the status quo are as unfounded and absurd as any rational person would believe on first hearing them.

It's been a wonderful year, all around. I'm amazed we had over 92,000 unique visitors come to read something here on the blog this year, and almost 2,500 people fanned our Urban Chickens Facebook page, to boot. I'm grateful for all those who left a comment, sent an email or shared a link. I find it tremendously rewarding you've chosen to give me your attention and I hope to earn the chance for more of it in 2010. I'm also grateful to our blog sponsor this past Spring, for helping us afford some extra chicken scratch around the house.

A review of 2009 wouldn't be complete without noting events in our Redwood City backyard. We had a bittersweet year with our own urban chickens, Sophia and ZsuZsu. After years of companionship, egg production and entertainment, our lovely Sophia died suddenly in August. After much hand-wringing, research and outreach, we found a new flock in Los Altos for our remaining chicken, ZsuZsu, to join so as not to have her all alone in our now-empty coop.

So, we end 2009 "in-between chickens" with plans to get new birds early in 2010. I can't wait to share with you our experience of raising even more chickens in our backyard, and to help bring this experience to more and more backyards across the country (and Canada, too!).

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope 2010 is your best yet!

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