Sunday, April 17, 2011

More local heroes: Habitat for Hens

The City of Salem put the would-be henkeepers of CITY (Chickens in the Yard) through an absurd ordeal before finally coughing up a giant hairball of an ordinance that, supposedly, permits Salem residents to keep three hens.

To their great credit, the CITY folks have responded to the shabby treatment, suspicion, distrust, and just plain racism and classism aimed at them with real style and grace, working hard to make this small step for greater sustainability and food security a reality here in Salem -- including for people priced out of having hens by the City's determination to make henkeepers jump through as many ridiculous hoops as possible.

One great thing: The Habitat for Hens program. Good for them!
Getting ready for another Habitat for Hens
Winning the two-year battle to legalize backyard chickens was very rewarding, but not nearly as satisfying as the work we’ve done since then.

Last November CITY volunteers constructed a chicken coop for a family in northeast Salem. In addition to receiving an 8’ x 12’ coop and run, the family was given three hens nearly ready to start laying, a 50 pound bag of feed, a waterer, a feeder, and a bag of oyster shell – everything needed to get started raising chickens. The excited look on the children’s’ faces that day made the two-year struggle worth every minute. We call this project Habitat for Hens and we can’t wait to do it again next month!

Habitat for Hens is a community-building activity that helps local families become more self-sufficient. Sharing excess eggs or vegetables produced in our own backyards is a wonderful thing, but giving others the resources and skills needed to produce their own healthy food is even better.

Volunteers came together one Saturday to donate their time and labor, making this event possible. Despite the threat of rain, muddy conditions, and the fact that most of us had never met, things went very smoothly. It was amazing to watch everyone pair up and get to work sawing, hammering, stapling, etc., while getting to know one another. Individuals donated lumber, paint, bricks, roofing material, concrete, and a screen door. Even the hens, feed, and other supplies were donated by the Old Mill Feed & Garden Store and Farwest Hatchery, leaving very little for CITY to have to purchase.

The recipient family showed their appreciation by providing hot lattes and pumpkin scones in the morning and serving homemade enchiladas when the job was done. We started out as a bunch of strangers, but by the end of the day we were good friends who sat down together for a meal and listened to those who’ve raised chickens in the past share their stories (anyone who has raised chickens always has a good story or two to tell).

I know that someday the children we helped will tell their story, possibly to kids of their own, about the day nine strangers showed up and built them a chicken coop and what that meant to them.

Very soon we will be building a coop for another Salem family, a young couple with two small girls. They are anxious to begin raising hens and have already taken our Chicken-Raising 101 class, but need help with the initial investment. If you would like to be a part of this event please rummage through your garage or shed and look for building materials you no longer need that are in good shape, and/or consider donating your labor when we build the coop.

It's tentatively scheduled for May 21 or 22, depending on the weather. Contact if you have something to donate. Thank you!