REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
At the grocery store these days, a dozen eggs will run you a couple of dollars. If you pick the organic cage-free kind, you're looking at three or even four bucks. Fed up with the price of eggs or milk or honey, some city dwellers and suburbanites are skipping the store entirely and turning instead to their own backyards. Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio got a taste of this trend in her own Denver neighborhood. Here's her story.
MEGAN VERLEE: Living in a city, you expect the occasional siren to wake you up at night or maybe the roar of a jet coming in low for the airport. It goes with the territory. But the nocturnal disturbances in my neighborhood have a slightly more agrarian feel.
(Soundbite of rooster crowing)
VERLEE: That'll wake you up. The little guy behind that big voice makes his roost in my neighbor's yard. When I started hearing about a trend toward more cities allowing livestock, there was only one logical place to start researching.
BRAD: Hi, Megan.
VERLEE: Thanks for letting me come by and see the chickens.
BRAD: Sure. I've been out there with the geese.
(Soundbite of geese honking)
VERLEE: Did I mention they also have a pair of geese? What my neighbors don't have are any permits for this minor menagerie. Denver does allow chickens, but you have to pay an annual fee. Roosters, though, are entirely outlawed. And as an outlaw rooster keeper, Brad doesn't want us to use his last name, but he is happy to introduce me to his flock, scratching around in a converted sun porch.
Do they have names?
BRAD: Yeah, Maybelline, Avon, and Noxema.
VERLEE: Many of the folks pushing for urban livestock ordinances do it from trendy, modern ideas about sustainability and local food - you know, locavores. For Brad, it's a bit simpler. He just loves chickens. He had them as a boy in the countryside and just kept on raising them, even after moving to Los Angeles as a teenager.
BRAD: So, I was walking around L.A. streets with a Rhode Island Red.
(Soundbite of laughter)
BRAD: And people would say, whoa, my god, that's a beautiful bird! What is it? Oh, it's a chicken. A chicken? You know, city folk had never seen them before.
VERLEE: That seems to be changing. Forget growing your own vegetables. Cutting-edge locavores are now pushing backyard honey, eggs, and milk. Researchers with the American Planning Association say in the last six months they've fielded more questions about livestock ordinances than almost any other topic. Zoning consultant Christopher Duerksen is trying to simplify some of the answers. He's putting together a model sustainability code for cities trying to green up their rules.
I'm curious, when you say to your average city planner - when you to say them the word "chicken," what do they tend to say?
Mr. CHRISTOPHER DUERKSEN (Colorado Zoning Consultant): They tend to squawk. I think most planners, like most people, don't think of urban areas as food producing areas, but that's changing with the cost of food and questions about the health of food. And so we're seeing a real change in mindset among urban planners.
VERLEE: Which means you can now keep bees in Denver or raise a mini-goat in Seattle. But the real rock stars of this movement are chickens. Urban livestock researcher Jennifer Blecha says in recent years a dozen cities or more annually have joined the pro-chicken flock. And she's seeing chicken advocates starting to get more organized.
Ms. JENNIFER BLECHA (Urban Livestock Researcher): When I over the last year or two have done presentations at various conferences on urban agriculture, a swarm of people comes afterward and says, oh, I'm from Cleveland. We need to get our regulations changed. Can you please help? Could you give me some advice?
VERLEE: Some municipalities have bucked this agrarian trend, though. Just north of Denver, the planning board for the city of Longmont recently gave the thumbs-down to a chicken ordinance. According to Board Chair Jon Van Bentham, concerns ranged from unsightly chicken coop construction, to noise and smell, to slightly more dire topics.
Mr. JON VAN BENTHAM (Board Chairman, Longmont, Colorado): Avian flu came up. That's maybe kind of a nightmare scenario, but that's one of the places where folks are concerned that it comes from.
VERLEE: But backyard farmers seem to have one ace in the hole for defusing any local objections - bribery. Certainly, on my street I know plenty of Brad's eggs end up on my neighbors' breakfast plates.
(Soundbite of conversation)
BRAD: I ask them every now and then if it's bothering them. And they say, oh, no, it doesn't bother us at all. And besides, you wouldn't mess with the one that feeds you.
VERLEE: Or kill the goose with the golden egg, I guess.
VERLEE: For the record, no eggs - goose, chicken, or otherwise - changed hands in the reporting of this story. For NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver.
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