Actions that ripple through time: 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Watergate, Montgomery Bus Boycotts, the launch of the Air Jordan 1.
Jacksonville will forever feel the impact of CluckenGate 2011. I’m referring, of course, to the incident in which Lauren Trad’s neighbor secretly allowed a code enforcement official to peek over her back fence, exposing Trad’s illegally kept hens and, ultimately, setting the wheels in motion for Jacksonville’s permanent Backyard Hen Ordinance — passed unanimously two weeks ago by city council (minus Kimberly Daniels, who failed to make the meeting, surprise).
“I got hens without knowing it was illegal. My daughter fell in love with chickens on a vacation to Costa Rica. When we got back, my husband installed a coop, and after two weeks, I was obsessed,” says Trad about her accidental foray into backyard-hen-keeping. “I got cited because my neighbor complained, starting a rolling fine of $250 per day. So, I got rid of my chickens … then I got loud.”
Trad created Hens in Jax and mobilized a base of hundreds of people (numbering in the thousands on social media) intent on changing the law, making backyard hen-keeping legal. Jacksonville was behind the curve in terms of cities with ordinances allowing for the clucky pets. Within the state, Orlando, Tampa, Sarasota, and Gainesville have laws allowing folks to keep hens in their backyards. There are even backyard hen-keepers in Brooklyn, New York (because, of course there are).
Two years after CluckenGate 2011, Jacksonville City Council approved a one-year pilot program, allowing for only 300 permits throughout the city. The first permit, given to Trad, was distributed in January 2014; by May, all 300 permits had been “pecked.”
Genora Crain-Orth was also an early permit-holder and assisted Trad’s movement. Eventually, Crain-Orth would carry the baton past the finish line by picking up where Trad left off (her family decided to move to Colorado), creating River City Chicks and doing the groundwork of pushing the second phase of legislation, a permanent backyard-hen ordinance.
“Education has been a huge component of it. A lot of people have a misconception that backyard chicken-keeping is like confined animal-keeping,” says Crain-Orth. “A lot of people think huge industrial operations where there are hundreds of thousands of chickens confined in a small space, they don’t have the ability to scratch at the ground and, yeah, it stinks and is disgusting, but that’s not what’s in my backyard.”
Crain-Orth says her hens are happier and healthier than those kept in industrial operations.
“My chickens have room, they have space to move around, their beaks aren’t clipped because they’re going to kill each other because they have to fight for space, they’re not pumped with antibiotics because they’re in such close confinement that a disease could come through and wipe out the whole flock. And they’re great pets for my son.”
Crain-Orth was successful in convincing city council to unanimously vote for the ordinance, making the pilot program permanent. For most. Council adopted an amendment to the ordinance that allowed for neighborhoods to opt out of the program. There was also a stipulation that council members were individually able to choose whether a neighborhood would opt in. Neighborhoods who want in or out of the ordinance opt-in/out are required to get signatures of 50-percent-plus-one of residents in the neighborhood.
“I have not heard one valid reason to oppose backyard hen-keeping; opposition is based on misconceptions related to large-scale poultry farming,” says Lisa King, commissioner and vice chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m disappointed that a few citizens communicated directly with Council and had their neighborhoods opted out. It seems to fly in the face of democracy and due process.”
In spite of the opt-out program, King is pleased with the opt-in provision. “[It] gives people the opportunity to educate their neighbors. Hens are pets with benefits.
I’m thrilled that Jacksonville has joined
cities all over Florida in giving our citizens this opportunity.”
Would-be hen-keepers are required to take a two-hour crash course at the agricultural extension office on how to raise chickens.
“For me, getting this approved is a big step, because it’s important for [my son] to understand this is where your food comes from,” says Crain-Orth. “We grow vegetables in our yard. We have chickens in our backyard. He understands that if you take care of this animal, it gives you food. He loves to run out back and show off the coop when people visit. Whenever we have eggs, we share with friends, neighbors. I even post on Facebook, and the first to respond gets the eggs.”