Lea Cruz looked on her tablet at the picture of the chicken coop she wanted to buy.
It was not cheap but told the Chronicle it was an investment in her and her husband’s health.
But before spending $4,600, and other associated costs for the coop and its enclosure for the chickens to scratch and feed, the 48-year-old nurse telephoned Inverness’ building department about the rules when it came to chickens and coops.
The answer city government staff gave her was straight forward enough: The city didn’t allow them in residential areas.
Cruz is now looking to change that. As a result of her petition to city officials, the Inverness City Council and its planning and zoning board will consider next month an ordinance to allow the popular fowl at people’s homes. City government staff will recommend the new ordinance be approved.
Most of Cruz’s backyard makes up a well-maintained garden with a greenhouse, citrus tree, raised beds with herbs and vegetables, and a large trellis densely covered in muscadine vines and grapes.
“There are many benefits to having chickens,” Cruz told the Chronicle.
They can provide you with eggs and their manure can be used as fertilizer, she said.
They eat and recycle food waste, she said.
Cruz said she also wanted to know where her chicken eggs came from and knowing the chickens were well treated and healthy is important, she said.
Rearing chickens is not new to Cruz or her husband Vic Febreo, 59, both of whom grew up in rural Philippines.
Febreo grew up on a farm and Cruz’s mother was a stay-at-home mom who bred pigs in her backyard and sold the piglets. Cruz also remembers at least a dozen chickens roaming the property.
“It was basically taking care of a small farm,” Cruz said of her work with the animals.
Cruz is proud of her large backyard garden, how it was designed and built by her husband, the mix of vegetables and herbs, and the produce the two eat.
The goal is to make it as self-sustaining as she can, Cruz said.
Cruz is not alone.
An estimated million families raise backyard chickens, and the number is rising following the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Backyard Poultry, an online industry website that follows and analyzes poultry trends.
Greg Rice, Inverness community development director, told the Chronicle that urban sustainability farming is growing and people are treating the chickens as much like pets as livestock.
He said he has sent a proposed ordinance to the city’s attorney for review. It includes a four-chicken limit, not allowing chicken sales or on-premises slaughter, no free-range chickens, and space requirements per chicken.
He also wants to make sure they don’t make too much noise. The ordinance would not allow roosters.
Rice said that he too will raise backyard chickens if the ordinance is approved.
City Manager Eric Williams said it was time the city allowed chickens in residential communities, given their popularity. And it was important that the city had an ordinance to try and protect everyone’s property rights.
He said an ordinance would also allow people who already own chickens to be open about it.
“But there has to be limits,” he said.
Cruz thinks the issue involves more than only chickens.
She said people have gotten away from growing their own food and have sacrificed their health and nutrition for the convenience of prepackaged meals.
“Raising chickens and growing vegetable; we’ve lost that somewhere along the way,” Cruz said.
Fred Hiers is a reporter at the Citrus Chronicle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.