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Fort Lauderdale Hen Project Petitions City Commission to Allow Backyard Chickens

Josephine Jones loves chickens.

"They're awesome pets," says Jones. "They're friendly. They're not aggressive. I consider them productive pets. They're very sociable - they're just awesome."

Jones, along with co-organizer Melissa Kloepfer and her daughter Lindy Kloepfer, are the forces behind a relatively new yet quickly growing movement - the Fort Lauderdale Hen Project.

UPDATE: FTL Hen Project received confirmation from the City of Fort Lauderdale Commision that they will be allowed to speak at the meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in City Hall. Be there if you wish to show your support. Nearly 650 people have signed their petition and you can too.

Jones grew up with chickens in New Jersey and has been pondering the whys and wherefors of urban poultry keeping for a few years now, ever since traveling in the northwest and seeing people keep them in Seattle and Portland.

She just started to wonder, why not here? So, she and Kloepfer laid out their ideas on a website, put together some social networking, and started circulating a petition.

"We have a Facebook page that is really growing. We have a Twitter account and a MeetUp group.This is all within five or six weeks that it has really just taken off and it's a sign that the movement is not going away."

The petition already has about 650 signatures and Jones has high hopes that the current momentum will keep up and they will have at least 1,000 before they speak before the City of Fort Lauderdale Commission this Tuesday. They're also hoping those in support will show up at the actual meeting.

"We want the commissioners to know this is a serious movement and it's not just a few residents, it's a substantial number of residents that want it. When they look up and see a room full of people, that means something."

But not everyone is in love with the idea of chickens in Fort Lauderdale. Jones has been reaching out and educating the public as best she can.

The main concerns people raise are noise and disease related. Jones hurries to reassure them there is nothing to be concerned about on either front.

"Roosters really are the concern. Hens cackle and they're chatty but they settle down."

Jones explains that this is why they named the organization the FTL Hen Project - to make it clear that this is a girls only party. In comparison, hens don't make nearly as much noise as other, more familiar sources, like a lawn mower or a barking dog.

"You don't need the rooster to have the eggs. The rooster is to fertilize the eggs if you want more chicks, but the egg is the natural product of the hens."

And, though she loves hens for themselves, eggs are really the point for most people. The ones you buy in the store are bleached and can be as much as a month old, says Jones. With growing concerns about GMOs, hormones, antibiotics, and the ethical treatment of animals, the concept of keeping your own egg hens starts to make more and more sense.

As to the idea that having what is essentially livestock in a residential area might spread disease?

"We're busting the myth about diseases. Research shows that dogs and cats and migrating birds spread more disease than chickens."

Keeping chickens in your backyard probably sounds like an outlandish idea to most urban and suburban dwellers, but once upon a time it was considered every American's civic and patriotic duty to keep chickens.

Before the US Department of Agriculture got into the business of promoting agricultural business, it promoted agricultural self-reliance.

Now, most city governments prohibit the keeping of chickens in city limits, but that is changing. Already, major local cities have let the chicks in, including Portland, Raleigh, Charlottesville, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, Berkeley, Seattle, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boston, DC, Chicago, and even Miami.

Jones is hoping to get her three minutes in front of the city commission on Tuesday, though they won't know for certain that they're on the agenda until Friday night. In the meantime, they have been emailing Mayor Jack Seiler and the commissioners information.

The City Commission meets on the first and third Tuesdays of each month. The next meeting is Tuesday, May 7 at 6:00 p.m. in the first floor Commission Chambers of City Hall, 100 N. Andrews Avenue.

Even if she does speak and even if everyone on the board approves the idea Tuesday, it won't mean chickens for everyone on Wednesday. Bureaucracy moves slowly, so whether you are pro or con, you'll get your chance to weigh in.

Learn more about the FTL Hen Project by visiting, liking their Facebook page, going to a group meeting, or by following them on Twitter. If you are already on board with hens for neighbors, sign their petition and even be at the city commission meeting on Tuesday.

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Rebecca McBane is the arts and culture/food editor for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. She began her journalism career at the Sun Sentinel's community newspaper offshoot, Forum Publishing Group, where she worked as the editorial assistant and wrote monthly features as well as the weekly library and literature column, "Shelf Life." After a brief stint bumming around London's East End (for no conceivable reason, according to her poor mother), she returned to real life and South Florida to start at New Times as the editorial assistant in 2009. A native Floridian, Rebecca avoids the sun and beach at all costs and can most often be found in a well-air-conditioned space with the glow of a laptop on her face.
Contact: Rebecca McBane

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