City residents set up backyard coops.
Wendy Camacho never imagined she’d raise chickens. She tries to live sustainably and keeps a big garden at her home in Chesapeake’s South Norfolk neighborhood, but the idea of having her own source of fresh eggs never occurred to her until she began watching her diet. What she learned surprised her.
“The eggs you buy in the supermarket are a month old,” says the 50-year-old Camacho. “The chickens in these large poultry farms are full of antibiotics and given feed that’s been genetically modified.”
Given access to high quality food and space to scratch and peck, hens lay eggs that are nutritionally superior and—importantly for Camacho—lower in cholesterol than virtually all industrial-sourced eggs. They also provide a rich source of garden fertilizer. All in all, she found too many benefits of homegrown eggs to ignore.
Her boyfriend Jim, who grew up on a farm, happily erected a coop for Camacho and, in summer 2012, she installed three chickens (two Rhode Island Reds and an Ameraucana) at her home, even though at the time it was illegal to raise chickens in urban neighborhoods. She joined a grassroots movement called “4 Chesapeake Hens” whose work convinced Chesapeake’s city council to overturn the ban on chickens in urban neighborhoods; the city now allows up to six hens, confined to a coop, for each residence.
The three eggs a day the hens provide Camacho “are much richer,” she says. “They’re so clear when I crack them. Anything I use them for—cakes, brownies—come out much fluffier than with other eggs.”
There’s been no cluck-clucking from neighbors, either. A small daily effort keeps the coop clean, and her hens are quieter than neighborhood dogs. (Only roosters cock-a-doodle-do.)
Camacho is part of a growing trend of Virginians campaigning for the right to keep backyard chickens. Chesapeake joins Fredericksburg and Salem as cities that recently passed ordinances allowing urban flocks. “People mistakenly think chickens cost a tremendous amount of money, but a 50-pound bag of feed lasts a couple months, and table scraps and old vegetables go to the chickens. That’s less out of my pocket and less that goes to the landfill,” explains Camacho. “The more I can do to feed my own family, it’s a win-win for everyone.”