Start peeping up

Across the nation, communities are recognizing the need to create and sustain local food supplies—whether to be closer to their food source, to have inexpensive or organic food, or to prepare for a post-petroleum future. So why does progressive Asheville have such a regressive policy on urban chickens?

To have chickens here, a permit and a 100-foot buffer between chickens and neighbors are currently [required]. With an average-size lot, most residents cannot legally have a small backyard flock.

Asheville City Chickens represents citizens recommending a less restrictive chicken ordinance, proposing: a maximum-size flock of six hens per household; no roosters; a buffer of 25 feet from coop to adjoining residence; and complaint-driven enforcement—as with other animal-enforcement issues like barking dogs.

The most common—and misunderstood—objections to backyard flocks are noise, smell and disease. Noise is handled by simply forbidding roosters; they are not necessary for egg production. Experts say a foul-smelling coop can be a problem in larger flocks with 25 hens or more. Staff of both the North Carolina State Veterinary Service and the North Carolina Agricultural Extension Service indicate that avian disease is transmitted by migratory birds and that small flocks pose no threat.

Since May 2008, Asheville City Chickens has been advocating vigorously with city officials, providing copies of sensible ordinances from other towns and submitting letters of support from citizens. They have met with city officials who desire an ordinance that meets the needs of all citizens and chicken enthusiasts while addressing possible concerns, such as the need for more animal-services staffing. Adequate enforcement staff—a valid concern—has already been logically and functionally addressed by other cities—including Raleigh, Wake Forest and Chapel Hill. A proposal presented last summer to Mr. Euler, assistant city attorney, and Capt. Fisher of Asheville Police Department, attempted to address those issues by recommending that up to three hens be allowed with no permit at all, and that enforcement be complaint-driven. Our group hopes to provide, among other things, educational opportunities on proper small-flock management. Ultimately we hope to establish hen-friendly neighborhoods throughout Asheville. Our focus is to work with Capt. Fisher and his staff to create minimal increase in work load for the four animal-services officers currently on staff.

Mr. Euler, Capt. Fisher and a small group of urban chicken experts will meet on Jan. 5, 2009. I sincerely hope the outcome of this meeting will be a sensible, well-researched ordinance based on thoughtful review of the current trends in urban sustainability. Everyone who wants “legal” fresh eggs from their backyard this spring is hoping for a positive early decision. With our economy, there is little doubt that more and more Ashevilleans will seek financial relief by growing their own food and eggs.

If you would like to see a chicken-friendly Asheville and all the social, economic and environmental benefits it would provide, please e-mail your city officials at

— Laurie Fisher

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