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Backyard Chicken Movement Unites

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Domenica Protheroe had a handful of criteria -- such as access to a public pool and library -- when she sought to move from Detroit in the Cascade foothills two years ago to t

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Domenica Protheroe had a handful of criteria -- such as access to a public pool and library -- when she sought to move from Detroit in the Cascade foothills two years ago to the Willamette Valley.

Also high on her list? Being able keep a few chickens in her backyard.

Protheroe ultimately moved to Monmouth. But it was only after settling in last summer did she realize the copy of the municipal code she consulted in 2009 was outdated. Chickens were prohibited.

This after locating "a cute hen house and a source for Ameraucana hens," she lamented.

Sue Barker of Independence had gone to her town's officials to inquire about hens that same year. She said she always assumed they were legal and was surprised to learn hens fell under a city livestock ban.

"I think there's a lot of frustration about it," said Malinda Bermudez, a farmer and fellow Independence resident with a soft spot for Bantam chickens. "I think people are starting to feel like hens can make nice pets ... and that there's not a lot of reason to outlaw them."

That sentiment has brought the three women together and spurred the "Monmouth-Independence Chicken Revolution" -- their campaign to convince their respective towns to allow residents to keep hens.

Since June, the trio has been gathering research on chicken laws in neighboring cities, organizing and spreading awareness, and dispelling myths through a website and social media.

They've also begun circulating a petition of support at area farmers markets, and are planning an informational forum on backyard chicken farming in late September.

"We want to make sure we can demonstrate to the city the support for this clearly," Bermudez said. "But with the response from community members we've had so far, it's rock solid in our minds that it isn't just us who want to see this happen."

Chickens as pets has become popular throughout urban areas in the United States in recent years. People come in droves for coop tours in Portland.

Closer to home, Salem opted to allow residents to keep a limited number of hens in backyards in 2010 after two years of lobbying against zoning laws by Chickens in the Yard, a nonprofit created by West Salem resident Barbara Palermo.

Dallas officials also allowed chickens last year in response to citizen requests.

Locally-sourced food, sustainable agriculture and gardening practices, and educational benefits for kids are all factors in the movement, Protheroe said.

"It's a trend for good reason," she said. "It's important for people to know where their food comes from."

The group has penned a proposed ordinance that they want city councils in Monmouth and Independence to consider. It would allow a household five hens and require them to be kept in backyards, among other provisions.

"Roosters would never be legal," Bermudez stressed.

Independence was approached in 2010 about legalizing the birds. Officials published a one-sentence questionnaire, asking if the code should be changed to allow chickens in the city.

About 500 people responded and City Council never considered the issue after a slight majority voted "no." Proponents claimed the outcome might have been different if the question had not been so broad and included a limit on numbers.

Barker said the fact that there's already been an attempt, even a failed one, helps.

"It makes people aware that you even have an ordinance against it," she said. "A lot of people were going under the assumption you could have them if you wanted.

"People I'm talking to feel that you should ... at least have the option of having chickens," she continued.

Another key argument? The fact that Monmouth and Independence are two of the few communities in the valley that actually prohibit the birds.

"I think it does make our towns look like the stragglers," Bermudez said. "People we've come across have been surprised that Monmouth-Independence, being small, rural and connected to the country, make it illegal to have a few little hens in the backyard ... they think it's a strange quirk."

Find Out More

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The Monmouth-Independence Chicken Revolution is coordinating an informational meeting on Monday, Sept. 26, at 6:30 p.m. at the Independence Public Library.

The gathering will provide information on keeping chickens as pets, proper coop construction and maintenance, and will feature guest speaker Barbara Palermo of Chickens in the Yard (CITY).

For more information, visit the M-I Chicken Revolution on Facebook or at www.michickenrevolution.com.

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