July 2016 I won the petition to the City of Allen, Texas to overturn their anti-chicken ordinances and to allow backyard chickens!
Here's how I got there.
My husband Challie and I have always talked about buying land in the country. Having goats, horses, cows, pigs, acres of fruit trees and vegetables. But in reality we work in the city, have a suburban-sized back yard, and no experience in livestock of any kind. Well after years of toying with the idea, we decided to get serious and do a mini-version of the farm idea. We wanted to have some backyard chickens.
It’s the perfect family project! The kids can start developing a work ethic with the “chore” of collecting eggs every day. They can see first-hand the farm-to-plate chain and understand that their eggs don’t actually come from a shelf at Kroger. Plus they're so much healthier (and better tasting)!
In contrast to factory farm eggs, eggs from backyard chickens have 25 percent more vitamin E, a third more vitamin A, and 75 percent more beta carotene. Not to mention more omega-3 fatty acids than factory farmed eggs. Grocery store eggs can be there for days
and even weeks. Air seeps into the porous eggshell and affects the nutrients, taste, and consistency of the eggs. Fresh eggs have firmer whites and super bright orange yolks.
To get started on our exciting new family project, we went to our cities’ website to make sure we were allowed to have backyard chickens. Sure enough, it was forbidden... or basically forbidden. You could have a chicken coop, but it had to be 150’ away from any neighboring property line. That’s the distance of a football field, 360 degrees around. In Allen, a suburb north of Dallas, that allows 0% of residents to actually have chickens.
So I did some research. Okay… a lot of research. (I’ve listed a ton of resources at the bottom of this blog, enjoy!) Once I knew my stuff, I decided to take action and get the ordinance changed!
I started a petition to "Change the city ordinance banning backyard chickens and turn Allen into a pro-chicken community" on Change.org. I then built a Facebook Page in which to promote my cause. I carefully laid out all the pro-chicken points while addressing the more common anti-chicken concerns in a thoughtful, clear, and concise essay. I set a budget of $100 and did some targeted display advertising to residents of Allen ages 30+ and boosted some of my posts.
During this time, I started interviewing for a new job. It was for a Director of Marketing role and I interviewed with both the company’s CEO and the President. Midway through the interview the President of the company says “So, what are your interests?” I give a pretty generic answer “Oh my family, cooking, church…” and he gives me a look and says “What about chickens?” Well I burst out laughing. It never even occurred to me to Google my own name and see what comes up (which is a total rookie mistake, but I was lucky enough to be old enough that I wasn’t doing anything embarrassing anymore by the time social media became a thing). After a little laugh, I talked about how, yes, I actually was advocating my city to allow us to have backyard chickens. I think it would be a lot of fun and beneficial for my family, yada yada. I was clearly a little embarrassed to be talking about something so non-important-business-womanish in this level of an interview but then the President said… “I really liked your petition. It was very well researched, articulated, and organized. I found it very compelling and impressive.” Honestly – I think that’s at least partially responsible for why I got his vote for the job!
Anyway, the petition was fairly new still, I think it had maybe 300 signatures when I started my new job and became pretty busy and distracted. I was side tracked for a few months while I got up-to-speed on the new gig. In January, 2016 I was ready to put some attention back into my advocacy.
I notified all the petition signers and Facebook followers to show up and support my speaking to the City Council meeting January 26th. I asked them all to email the City Council expressing their support for updating the ordinance. KEY NOTE: I included the email addresses for the Mayor and all the City Council Members (no one is going to make the effort to look it up themselves) and a draft email they could easily copy/paste. Anything to make it easier is most effective.
I brought little chicken buttons (just paper & tape) for supporters to wear at the meeting as a visual show of support. I contacted the media and received two responses from reporters who covered the story.:
Now with the public support behind me and some decent media coverage I spoke at the City Council meeting January 26th, 2016. February 9th I heard back from the city that they were taking our petition seriously and were putting together a committee to review the issue and present a proposal sometime in March.
It wasn't until mid-April that I finally heard from the city that they'd presented the proposal to the City Council in a private meeting and they'd ask that the residents have a chance to review it and give feedback before it was put to a vote. During every lull and waiting period I'd post updates or link to relevant articles to keep my advocate community engaged and involved. If you visit the Change.org page or the Facebook page you can see the regular stream of updates and information shared.
So it was April 14th, 2016 and I, along with the owner of a local feed store that I'd reached out to, his work colleague a Purina food rep, and one other passionate Allen resident met with this subcommittee. We reviewed the proposed new ordinance and gave a few suggested changes (see more details on the first draft HERE).
It was another two months before we heard from the City Council again. They were doing a small workshop on June 28th to discuss the proposal. I couldn't make this one (which killed me) but I was out of town on business travel. Following the workshop the consensus was that it was likely the ordinance would pass in the next City Council meeting July 26th.
I encouraged all the petition signers and Facebook followers to email the Mayor and City Council with their support one last time (for probably the 10th time. I wanted to be persistent, but not obnoxious). Again, I included email addresses and an email template they could copy/paste and customize as they saw fit.
I reached out to the media again the day before the vote to let them know the big day was finally there. I gave an interview with the local Allen American newsletter again.
The time came - I nervously waited until the meeting got to the Chicken Ordinance vote (about 30 minutes in). Our City Manager did a fantastic job pitching the updated proposal. The City Council was a little more ambivalent about it than I expected - there was a 50/50 divide between them and I began to get nervous it wouldn't pass! The hardest part was that it was not a public discussion and I couldn't chime in when the nay-sayers had misinformed or illogical arguments.
At 8:30pm July 26th I was able to post the following update:
"I am happy to announce the new pro-chicken ordinance was approved and passed by the City Council tonight! It was a good 30 minutes of rigorous debate and a few concessions were made in order to get it approved.
They did decrease the # of chickens allowed to 4 female hens. No roosters of course. The chicken coop enclosure must be 20' from a neighbor's property line.
Allen citizens must apply for a one-time permit. The permit will not be granted if the home resides in an HOA that restricts the home from keeping chickens or if there are any deed restrictions against chickens.
All-in-all I'd call it a success and am very proud of all of Allen's Citizens who united to affect change! Thank you all so much for helping make this happen!!!
The following article was in the next day's Allen Star newspaper (that's my son Greyson collecting eggs from our coop):
I can't thank the Mayor of Allen, the City Council, the City Manager, and all the residents of Allen who worked together to implement positive change for our city!
Now... a good percentage of Allen lives in Home Owners Associations (HOAs) and it’s likely they have rules against chickens. I’m happy to not be in an HOA. Our last house was in a strict HOA and it was not something we enjoyed or will live in again. I can only encourage chicken-keeper-wannabees to start the petition process to overturn their outdated HOA rules against chickens and continue the good fight!
We have four chickens we call “the Black Ones and Red” (we started with six. You can read about it in another blog "And Then There Were Four"). They are low maintenance, friendly, and so much fun! We eat fresh eggs every day. The kids love going into the backyard and checking for eggs (seriously every 1-2 hours they’re out there looking). It was absolutely worth the time and effort it took to bring about change to our city ordinance. I am so happy and proud that I was able to bring this fun experience and life lesson into my kid’s childhood – but also the lives of my neighbors and residents of Allen, TX. There were some nay-sayers along the way. But as time goes on and their concerns do not bear fruit, I expect them to forget the law ever even changed and to move on with no ill-affect or change to their lives.
If you’re in a community that doesn’t allow chicken keeping please check out some of the below resources that were a great help to me. If you have any questions or need advice on bringing about change in your city or town I’m happy to help. Just comment below and I’ll respond promptly!