Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force presented its recommendations to the Arlington County Board on Tuesday night. Chief among them: allow backyard hens for residential egg production, but only in larger yards and with prior approval of neighbors and county inspectors.
The 18-person task force has labored for more than a year to create the recommendations, contained in a 74-page report. Along the way, the task force conducted extensive public outreach online, at farmers markets and at community meetings.
In the end, on the hot-button issue of hen raising, the task force recommended a course of action unlikely to fully satisfy those on either side of the argument. Backyard hens, the task force said, should be allowed under the following conditions:
- Maximum of 4 hens
- No roosters
- Set back at least 20 feet from property lines
- Must file plans for coop and its placement
- Majority of adjacent property holders (within 50 feet of the coop) must consent
- Coop inspection required before occupancy
Task force chairman John Vihstadt — who acknowledged that “this is a very emotional issue stirring strong feelings on both sides” – described the recommendation as a reasonable compromise between those who wanted less hen regulation and those who wanted backyard hens to be prohibited. Currently, Arlington residents are technically allowed to raise poultry, but only if the enclosure is a full 100 feet from property lines. Reducing that to 20 feet is intended to allow more residents to raise hens while keeping disruption to neighbors to a minimum.
In a minority report, several task force members argued that 20 feet “would actually allow very few properties in Arlington to keep hens.” The minority report suggested a 7 foot setback, and also suggested allowing residents to keep miniature goats on their properties.
Backyards Not Barnyards, a group formed to opposed backyard hen raising in Arlington, expressed skepticism about the task force’s recommendations. The group questioned which county agency would be responsible for “chicken checking,” and asked whether those who live next to hen coops will be expected to become the “poultry police.”
“What happens if hen-owners don’t follow the guidelines?” the group said in a statement. “Do they get their chicken licenses revoked? Who would revoke them? What happens to the chickens? What’s the fine for too much accumulated chicken poop?”
The County Board is not expected to take action on the the task force’s recommendations until later this fall.
The task force made a number of other recommendations to the Board on the topic of urban agriculture. Those recommendations included:
- Appoint a standing Commission on Urban Agriculture
- Integrate urban agriculture into county planning documents
- Create new community gardens and urban farms, utilizing rooftops and fallow land awaiting development if possible
- Permitting federal SNAP benefits (food stamps) at all Arlington famers markets (currently only a couple accept SNAP)
- Encourage the establishment of a “local food hub” to match up residential food producers with distributors and consumers
- Encourage the creation of additional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs
- Support additional healthy eating and urban agriculture education in schools and libraries
- Repurpose the historic Reeves farmhouse as a center for urban agriculture education for Arlington school students
- Establish a municipal composting system
Another recommendation was the creation of a year-round covered farmers market, like Eastern Market in D.C. and the Pike Place Market in Seattle. Such a market could also hold cooking and nutrition classes, a task force member said. While intrigued, some Board members seemed skeptical about finding the right location and the funding for such a market.
“Backyards, Not Barnyards,” as the group is called, is intended to be the answer to the Arlington Egg Project, which is strongly advocating for a change in zoning rules that would allow Arlington residents to raise egg-laying hens in their backyards.
Arlington County’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, established in 2012, is expected to make a set of recommendations to the County Board on Tuesday, June 11, including whether or not to allow backyard hen raising. Advocates for the change say that backyard hens are “a critical part of sustainable, small-scale home agriculture,” producing “eggs that are both superior in taste and nutrition” and “excellent fertilizer for your home garden and lawn.”
Jim Pebley, a former president of the Waycroft-Woodlawn Civic Association, helped to form Backyards, Not Barnyards with Darnell Carpenter, a former president of the Langston Brown Civic Association. Pebley says both he and Carpenter had unpleasant prior experiences with backyard chickens. They’re now hoping to attract “some grassroots opposition to this silliness.”
Backyard egg production, according the group, negatively impacts neighbors. Hens produce “excess animal waste runoff,” attract pests like insects and rats, and actually require more energy and resources than simply buying organic, sustainably-produced eggs at a local farmers market. Plus, they say, backyard hens are smelly and noisy.
The Arlington Egg Project has countered those points on its website, saying that hens are hygienic and won’t disturb neighbors.
Backyards, Not Barnyards also raises questions about regulation. If the zoning change only allows smaller-scale egg production, “Who would be in charge of counting [the chickens]?” the group asks.
Pebley has previously failed to get the Arlington County Civic Federation to adopt a resolution opposing backyard chickens, though he says he’s still trying to get the resolution through. With the new anti-chicken group, he’s hoping to gather online petition signatures to help sway the Arlington County Board before it considers any chicken-related zoning changes.
Backyards, Not Barnyards will be holding an organizational meeting tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 p.m. at the Langston Brown Community Center (2121 N. Culpeper Street). Snacks — including deviled eggs — will be served.
Walter Tejada, the new Arlington County Board Chair for 2013, says he will use his chairmanship to push for progress in four local policy areas: affordable housing, fitness and health, urban agriculture, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.
Tejada and other County Board members outlined their vision for the county at the Board’s traditional New Year’s Day meeting on Tuesday. As Chair, Tejada’s priorities will receive the sharpest focus.
In a seven-page speech, Tejada repeatedly called on the county to “move forward together… for all of Arlington.”
Tejada’s first major policy initiative is affordable housing. Tejada repeated a call he and Board member Chris Zimmerman previously made: for new affordable housing investment funded via adoption of Tax Increment Financing for Columbia Pike. The TIF would steer a percentage of taxes gained through increases in property values along Columbia Pike to the creation of new affordable housing, to bolster the county’s existing 6,585 committed affordable units.
“Already on Columbia Pike, market forces are threatening one of the County’s largest supplies of market-rate affordable housing,” Tejada said. ”I have asked [County Manager Barbara Donnellan] to analyze and submit a recommendation by June 2013 for creating a transit oriented affordable housing fund on Columbia Pike through adoption of a TIF.”
“We need to house our healthcare workers and teacher aides, our cashiers and restaurant workers, our cleaning staff and small business employees, and other hard-working people so vital to our County’s economic health,” he continued. “We need to maintain the cultural and economic diversity that is so vital to Arlington’s soul, for all of Arlington.”
Tejada acknowledged that more affordable housing will not come cheap, but quoted former president John F. Kennedy in saying, “To those whom much is given, much is expected.”
An affordable housing TIF on the Pike wouldn’t be the county’s first use of the funding vehicle. A TIF is in place to fund infrastructure improvements in Crystal City, including a planned Crystal City streetcar.
After affordable housing, Tejada called for the county to “promote healthy living” through an initiative called FitArlington.
The new focus on fitness and health will include the creation of a “Arlington Healthy Community Action Team” (HCAT) comprised of local health and fitness providers, youth services providers, nutrition educators and urban agriculture enthusiasts. In addition to promoting physical fitness in general, the county will work in partnership with the HCAT and Arlington Public Schools to help reduce the rate of childhood obesity in Arlington.
The childhood obesity initiative will kick off with a community meeting from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 17 at the Fairlington Community Center (3308 S. Stafford Street).
Tejada also highlighted the work of the county’s Urban Agriculture Task Force, which was announced as an initiative at the 2012 New Year’s Day meeting. Among the issues being considered by the task force is the controversial proposal to allow Arlington residents to raise egg-laying hens in their backyards. Tejada said he expects the task force’s forthcoming recommendations to help promote healthy eating in Arlington.
The couple managed to grow what they said was a seven pound sweet potato. Asked his secret for growing the giant root vegetable, David explained that sunlight, not shade, was key to his urban agriculture endeavors. That and some good ol’ fashioned mulch.
“A client of mine and fellow gardener had given me a few sweet potato shoots to plant in spring… never grew them before,” he said via email. “They were grown in a raised bed, nothing special other than some Arlington municipal mulch.”
“Every spring, Arlington County makes a big ‘to-do’ about planting more trees as part of their formally adopted ‘Tree Canopy Policy,’” he added. “Tree canopy and the ability to grow vegetables are pretty much mutually-exclusive. I’m fortunate because my yard is not heavily shaded, thus I was able to grow the sweet potato among other veggies, but I know so many other folks can’t have a garden because of extensive shade.”
The Wases still have a long way to go if they ever want to set a world record. A recent edition of the Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest sweet potato on record as 81 pounds.
Justice Dept. Upholds Va. Voter ID Law — A new Virginia law that expands the types of identification accepted at the polls while disallowing a rule that had allowed voting without an ID has been given a green light by the Justice Department, just in time for Election Day in November. [Washington Post]
Cars for Low-Income Families — The group Vehicles for Change has received a $1 million grant that will allow it to provide a couple dozen used cars to low-income families in Arlington, at low cost to the families. [Arlington Mercury]
Arlington Seeks Urban-Agriculture Feedback – Arlington is asking for the public’s thoughts on urban agriculture — including backyard chickens — in the county, via its Open Arlington website. One statement on the forum implores the county to “bring a Walmart to Arlington.” [Sun Gazette]
Cap City Hosting ‘Summer Farewell Party’ — Capitol City Brewing Company in Shirlington (4001 Campbell Avenue) is hosting a “Summer Farewell Party on the Patio” tonight. From 4:00 to 9:00 p.m., the restaurant will be offering $6 burgers, $6 brats, $5 margaritas and $3.50 beer pints. [Facebook]
Arlington Launches Mobile Tourism Site — Arlington Convention and Visitors Service has launched a mobile-optimized website for tourists. The site, which can be accessed via smartphone at www.StayArlington.com, features tools to discover and get directions to local dining, shopping, sight-seeing and entertainment options. [Arlington County]
Photo courtesy Pam C.
An Arlington catering company is boasting about being the first in the D.C. metro to use a non-traditional technology — aquaponics, a combination of hydroponics and aquaculture — to farm its own fish.
Main Event Caterers (3870 S. Four Mile Run Drive) recently began using the urban farming technique. Aquaponics is the practice of using a closed-loop ecological system to grow both fish and plants in one body of water. Water circulates through fish tanks, moves through filters and plant beds, then heads back to the fish tanks.
The catering company says the process benefits the business as well as the environment.
“Less water and fertilizer use, the ability to grow a large volume of crops in a small space, and the value of our clients knowing exactly where their food comes from are just a few of the benefits we’ve experienced,” said Joël Thévoz, CEO of Main Event Caterers.
Main Event Caterers has a history of operating a green business. In addition to the aquaponic farming, it uses compostable materials, wind and solar powered electricity and rain water reclamation.
“Our commitment to sustainable initiatives runs deep,” said Nancy Goodman, Co-Founder of Main Event Caterers. “Everything we do within our daily operations is motivated by our dedication to protect and preserve the environment while providing an entirely green experience to our clients.”
A group dedicated to legalizing backyard chicken keeping in Arlington met in Fairlington last night to discuss their strategy for winning the support of fellow residents and, in turn, the county government.
An unscientific poll conducted on ARLnow.com last week found that most respondents were amenable to the idea of urban chicken ownership.
Below is the press release sent to us by the ‘Arlington Egg Project’ after last night’s meeting.
On Thursday, May 19, a committed group of Arlington residents gathered at the Fairlington Community Center for an organizational meeting to discuss methods for promoting community conversations about the benefits of backyard hens. Their group, dubbed the Arlington Egg Project, seeks for Arlington County officials to research the issue and, ultimately, revise local zoning ordinances to allow people living in Arlington neighborhoods to engage in small-scale, sustainable hen-raising.
Currently, Arlington County zoning ordinances require that poultry be kept at least one hundred feet from any street or lot line. This provision precludes virtually all Arlington households from keeping backyard hens.
“Backyard hens provide clean, healthful food and reduce dependence on environmentally harmful factory farming. Allowing responsible homeowners to have small numbers of backyard hens would be in the best tradition of Arlington’s values,” says Tycie Horsley, an Arlington resident and Arlington Egg Project member.
A recent morning poll in www.ArlNow.com indicated strong interest in allowing backyard chickens in Arlington, with 72% of respondents expressing support for or openness to revision of Arlington ordinances to allow more residents to keep chickens.
The positive participation of Arlington residents in the Arlington Egg Project is consistent with a growing urban agriculture movement in communities nationwide, as increasing numbers of people recognize the myriad benefits of raising small numbers of backyard hens and other sustainable urban agricultural practices. Many urban communities, including Portland, Seattle, Madison, Baltimore, Chicago, and New York, allow residents to keep hens, and many others are jumping on the band wagon as interest in sustainable, healthful living grows.
The May 19 meeting of the Arlington Egg Project featured guest speaker Kirsten Conrad Buhls of the Arlington office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension. Buhls, an expert on urban agriculture and natural resources, states, “The Sustainable Urban Agriculture education programs that are led by Virginia Cooperative Extension in Arlington County have been part of an effort to educate residents about land-use decision-making that goes beyond the natural resource conservation education efforts currently led by Virginia Cooperative Extension, and Arlington County government offices. To meet increased interest in programs about local foods, Extension is pleased to be able to help develop and support initiatives like the Sustainable Urban Agriculture Lecture Series, Local Foods Local Chef and the Arlington Egg Project, with research-based education that brings the experience and teaching of our state land grant colleges to Arlington County. Across the state, local Extension agents provide training on all aspects of poultry keeping and the office is pleased to be able to offer these services to residents of Arlington County.”
The members of the Arlington Egg Project will continue to plan and conduct educational efforts about the benefits of backyard hens, working toward a well-considered revision of Arlington ordinances. Models for such a revised ordinance are available in other urban communities, many of which place limits on the number of backyard hens, prohibit roosters, and ensure secure and proper housing for hens. Arlington Egg Project members believe such an approach, tailored for Arlington’s own interests and values, could promote sustainable and healthy lifestyles to the benefit of all of Arlington.
Pike Wire reports that would-be chicken owners are organizing to try to convince the county to allow “small-scale backyard chicken-keeping in Arlington.”
Proponents say urban chicken ownership promotes sustainable, chemical-free egg production on a local level. Should Arlington follow the lead of Baltimore, Portland and Los Angeles in allowing homeowners to keep chickens in their backyards?