May 28, 2012
Dear Commissioner XXXXX;
I am writing to request that the county allow keeping chickens in unincorporated residential portions of our county. The recent actions of neighboring areas such as the city of Sarasota, Tampa, and Orlando to allow chickens leaves me mystified as to why county residents shouldn’t be allowed to house a few hens for egg production and education.
I have two little girls, ages 3 and 4. In their preschool class recently the monthly discussion was on animals. With this just ending “National Food Month” in April, naturally the first types of animals they learned about were farm animals. The teacher brought in eggs and taught them about chicks and chickens which she is able to legally keep at her home in Charlotte County. I had attended grammar school in Connecticut and had a similar experience where a teacher brought an incubator into school and we were able to watch chicks hatch and learn about food production. It was one of my favorite memories as a child. My family moved to Altamonte Springs Florida when I was in middle school. I attended Seminole High School in Sanford where, at the time, there were chickens in a yard next to the school. I moved to Charlotte, NC after high school and also lived next door to a house that had chickens in the yard. These were never a nuisance and they were entertaining to watch. All the places I lived were residential neighborhoods and within large cities. When my daughter asked me if she could have a chick for her birthday I assumed it would be fine since we live on the very outskirts of an unincorporated area. I was shocked to find out that we could not have them in our neighborhood. After doing a little research I was extremely surprised to learn that those within Downtown Sarasota can keep chickens. A little more research showed that we could however, keep a small pig (1) or a large loud exotic bird like a Cockatoo which can be larger in size, make more noise at a louder level, and require a longer commitment because they live much longer.
I have never owned chickens myself. As someone who lived and went to school near people who owned chickens, I can understand the issues addressed when allowing them in a residential neighborhood. I have been to Key West and been chased by roosters. I have been through chicken processing areas of North Carolina in the summer and it was disgusting. However all the issues are already address with other county ordinances; Such as noise (2), the confining of animals (3), and smells (4). These things are not a problem with small amounts of hens if the county residents were to follow the current guidelines for the City of Sarasota residents and this has been proven in other urban areas with a longer history of chicken keeping.
The movement to be more ecologically minded is everywhere. The stigma attached to chickens as a rural livestock animal has passed in our generation. I grew up watching “Captain Planet” and learning about global warming. I drive a Prius, I watch very little television, I breastfed and used modern cloth diapers my kids, and I read my newspaper on my smartphone. I am not an outlander. I am not considered odd or different. I am a normal, typical 31 year old married educated adult with two kids, a dog, and a 3 bedroom home. Research has been done in some of the largest, most expensive, upscale cities in our country and there are 166 that allow backyard chickens; including Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta (5). In fact, the top 10 largest cities in the United States allow chickens (6). Williams-Sonoma (an extremely large upscale store that specializes in kitchen homegoods) has a line of chicken coops which is the only animal-keeping product that they carry.
I’m tired of worrying that my groceries are tainted with some bacteria that only thrive when thousands of animals are forced to mass produce my food in an overcrowded warehouse. I’m tired of the weekly media story about salmonella, listeria, and E Coli in my prepackaged who-know-how-old food by-product. As consumers, my generation wants to know where their food comes from, to grow it themselves and to enjoy some of the more simple things that previously were considered low income, like sidewalks and bike riding. I don’t want to be a statistic of the “unhealthy American” with high blood pressure, heart disease, and a McDonald’s diet.
Sarasota County provides all the elements of a forward thinking, cultural community with all the access of large cities but within the small town community. We moved here because of art and cultural programs, farmers markets, museums and beaches. We love the schools here and are very impressed with the innovative programs like Imagination schools. Like any parent, I want to give my children all the opportunities available to them in places like Orlando, or Miami and allow them to be self-sufficient and productive adults. I have taught them to be able to mend a hole in their favorite shirt if it gets torn. We have a small backyard garden where I can grow herbs instead of buying some dried flake food that used to be an herb (I think). We volunteer for the Venice Circus Arts Foundation and the Seabird Sanctuary because we care about the history and preservation of our town. Until now, we have never had a desire that wasn’t fulfilled by some aspect of the local community. It could only make sense in a place like this that we can follow the example of other communities in allowing backyard chickens in our county.
Thank you for your consideration;
(1) “Definition of prohibited livestock”; Sarasota County Ordinances, Municode;
(2) “Noise”; Sarasota County Ordinances, Municode;
(3) “Animals at Large”; Sarasota County Ordinances, Municode;
(4) “Shelter” “Sustenance”; Sarasota County Ordinances, Municode;
(5) Rueters; “New Pecking Order for US Chickens: Backyard Chicken Coops”, May 15, 2012.
(6) Mywesternhome; “Percentage of Major US Cities Allowing Urban Hens” December 2011;