Scientific talk about the drawbacks of mass-produced eggs mixed with the excited chatter of children as the Metro Council took on an unusual subject — chickens — at a colorful public hearing Tuesday.
The council gave preliminary approval to a bill that would make it easier for urban residents to keep backyard hens after hearing from dozens of residents, most of whom spoke in support of the measure.
Partially organized by Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville — which had put yellow Peeps marshmallow candies on council members’ desks earlier in the day — and sporting yellow hats and shirts, they spoke of the benefits of producing good, organic eggs. They also talked about teaching young people the thrills of living off the land and the need to solve the “food desert” phenomenon in which some neighborhoods have no grocery stores or markets nearby.
“Many residents of Nashville are united in their desire to produce their own food locally,” said Andrew Greer, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University. “Local farming lets people know where their food is coming from and provides a space for social interaction when neighbors share produce or even meals together.”
Three critics of the proposed law warned that chickens would make noise and attract predators, and they noted that enforcement would be based on residents’ complaints rather than proactive efforts by Metro government.
“Constituents have few rights and little recourse,” said Michelle Miller, who lives in the Hillsboro-West End area.
The legislation, introduced by Councilwoman Karen Bennett last fall, would allow people living in residential zoning districts to keep up to two, four or six chickens, depending on the size of their property, for an annual permit fee of $25. Chickens wouldn’t be allowed in front yards, and roosters wouldn’t be allowed at all.
The bill still must win one more approval from the full council to become law.
The right to keep hens has been a long-standing cause for groups like Community Food Advocates. That organization’s office administrator, Megan Morton, an East Nashville resident, said the opportunity to raise chickens would give some people more “food security.”
“When you’re living on such a low income in terms of what you can buy, being able to grow a tomato plant, grow lettuce, get eggs from your backyard plays such a key role,” she said.
Kids, celeb attend
Children had their say to an unusual degree for a zoning matter. One boy wore a chicken hat as he came to the podium and exclaimed, “I’m a chicken lover!” Another youngster said chickens are quieter than dogs, better at staying put and less likely to leave their waste in places where it doesn’t belong.
The hearing also attracted a celebrity of sorts in the world of backyard chickens.
Andy Schneider of Ideal, Ga., host of a radio show called Backyard Poultry with the Chicken Whisperer, said he has seen chickens unite neighbors, not divide them, in cities around the United States.
In an interview, Schneider, 42, said the hens never cause as much trouble as some people expect.
“Regardless of how strict or lenient the law, the city still doesn’t have the complaints everybody thinks they’re going to have,” said Schneider, the letters “CW” stitched into the collar of his yellow shirt.
He also dismissed fears about the smell chickens might generate, saying, “We’re talking about six chickens, not 60,000.”
Schneider said Urban Chicken Advocates of Nashville invited him to speak to the council. He said they planned to go to dinner after the hearing at Otters, a place known for its chicken fingers.