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Roanoke Officials and Citizens Get a Whiff of Urban Chicken Farming

Farm Manager David Maren takes visitors on a “chicken tour.”

by Valerie Garner

What to do with the Countryside golf course that Roanoke City purchased for $4.1 million in 2005 … The conundrum has been an endless and exhausting city planning exercise. It has been a year since the residents of the Northwest community sat down with the Planning Commission to hash out the latest Master Plan for the property.

One 12 acre parcel of the 130 acre purchase was almost an afterthought to the residents who participated in the development of the Master Plan. It now has turned into the most contentious.

The parcel was earmarked for agriculture—the only acceptable use for the 12 acres that came into city hands after a land swap with the Roanoke Regional Airport Authority. The parcel lies directly at the end of the last airport guide light of runway 6; it is restricted due to navigation easements and aircraft noise.

To the chagrin of many residents, the proposal from the Grandin Road Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op included 400 chickens that would serve as organic fertilizer to vegetables and plants kept in multiple hoop houses.

“What do 400 chickens smell and sound like?” the neighborhood wondered.

In response, the co-op offered a bus trip to Floyd County’s Sweet Providence Farm on Route 221 Saturday and wound up leasing an Abbott bus and an airport van for the day to drive participants down to the chicken coop where 500 chickens are housed. Thirty residents took them up on the offer. Some attendees were familiar with farms, while others had never laid eyes on a live chicken.

Chickens roam in and out of one of the coops on Providence Farm.

Even those opposed to having 400 chickens at Countryside enjoyed the beautiful day and hospitality of the co-op and farm. Sean Jordan, Farm Manager for the co-op, fielded questions about what the chicken coops would look like, while General Manager David Maren educated the city dwellers on the Red Star and Rhode Island Red chickens.

Phil Jones, who lives on Lewiston Street, said “I thought you needed a rooster to get hens to lay eggs.” Maren chuckled and told Jones “the eggs will never hatch.”

The chickens, for their part clucked, scratched and darted in and out of the fenced area around the wide-open terrain. The main predators were hawks that lay in wait in the trees nearby. Maren said they expect to lose a few chickens to the hawks. Other predators are fox, coyotes, skunks and raccoons.

Councilman Bill Bestpitch and Planning Administrator Chris Chittum also attended the outing. Chittum even brought a decibel meter to guage the sound level. To his dismay, the neighbors were louder than the chickens.

The results of a poll taken at a meeting following the trip were 27 opposed, 5 were not necessarily opposed (but said no chickens) and 9 said they were not opposed. Emails, flyers and phone calls have been circulating in opposition.

There is no date set yet for council to decide on the sale of the property to the co-op.

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