It all started with finding little ways to save money, like making homemade laundry detergent and cooking meals from scratch.
Then Carrie Cox, founder of the environmental group Big Lick Green Drinks, decided that she wanted to be organic. She had some experience by working at the Natural Foods Co-op on Grandin Road, but the prices for natural and organic food were still out of reach. “Once you see the effects of how your food is raised … you can’t unsee it” she said.
“I started thinking, what did our grandparents and great-grandparents do during the Depression…they obviously did something to get by, they obviously didn’t die off, so what did they do and how did they do it?” Cox said.
She’s got deep enough roots in Salem’s history to know. Her great grandmother Carrie Brown-Taney, she said, used to live where Roanoke College’s Fintel Library stands now. “She gardened all the way down the hill and across Thompson Memorial, which wasn’t there then…I think you can still see the outline of the chicken coop,” she remembered. Her ancestor later moved into the family house on Academy Street where Cox lives now.
While Brown-Taney didn’t take chickens to the new house, she did garden in the lot out back. “There used to be horses in the field behind her house,” Cox said. Her eco-friendly approach to natural foods falls in line with an old-fashioned way of thinking, when neighbors dropped off vegetables, eggs, and baked goods off on one another’s porches and when a family didn’t buy something at the store when they could make it at home.
She is growing carrots, rosemary, strawberries, blueberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and much more in her front yard. She makes her own bread, chili, spaghetti sauce, soap, shampoo, and cleaners, all within her own home.
Cox buys pasture fed meat in bulk (chopped up as they want) and freezes it–while “it is a sticker shock the first time you do [buy] it…but you’re saving 50 to 60 percent between market price and buying in bulk” Cox said. And she feels better about knowing exactly where her meat comes from.
So Cox checked into the possibility of raising a few chickens of her own to produce fresh eggs. She checked Salem City’s code. The laws for animals, in chapter 14, seem to allow hens so long as the fowl don’t cause a nuisance or trespass on other citizens’ property.
She asked Salem Animal Control, and they told her “what they’ve been telling people for years,” that it’s perfectly legal based on their understanding of the city code. Cox did her homework first and bought about a dozen chickens of breeds known for their quiet demeanor. She researched the best way to raise them for health, smell, and noise, and began her newest green endeavor.
“That’s what’s so funny. We’re seen as being so radical in our neighborhood, but none of this is new,” Cox said.
She moves the chickens around daily (contained in a pen called a tractor) to keep the birds in fresh bugs. Moving the pen also dissipates any smell while fertilizing and weeding different parts of the yard. Cox hopes to begin getting eggs from the hens once they mature, but a technicality in zoning laws may kick the clutch out of the city limits.
Zoning laws, particularly 106-602.1, state that “the keeping of a cow, pig, sheep, goat, chicken or similar animal shall constitute agriculture regardless of the size of the animal and regardless of the purpose for which it is kept.”
The decision of changing the city code must go to the Planning Commission first, and then to City Council. Cox invited Salem City to come out and see the animals, because “seeing it really puts it into perspective,” she said, adding that “I really want to try to work with the city.”
Other cities, including Roanoke City, allow chickens with provisions specifying the number and treatment of the birds along with certain considerations for neighbors.
“I hope that they see it as a way to encourage people to grow their own and establish more of that community feel,” Cox said.
She’s organized an online petition for council for Salem residents that wish to allow chickens within its borders. Click here if you’d like to sign.