Charles Reinhardt admits he got busted for it about five years ago.
He’d kept it under wraps for years right under his neighbors’ noses. Then he slipped up and shared his secret with some neighborhood kids. Within days, it had flown the coop.
“I had chickens. I let the neighbor kids come over and give them some corn and someone turned me in to the city,” Reinhardt said.
Initially, he was irked at the warning letter from Centerville City Hall. He complied and got rid of his chickens. Then he decided to challenge the system.
It took several years but he finally persuaded the Centerville City Council to pass an ordinance allowing chickens. He’s the first resident in the northern Anoka County suburb to apply for a two-year permit, at a cost of $75. He’s already brought home four young hens to roost, the maximum allowed. He hopes to have fresh eggs within a few weeks.
“I am a rebel. I will push things,” Reinhardt says, a little tongue in cheek. “Actually, I kind of worried people would laugh at me and think I am weird. But I thought: I am 44 years old. I don’t care what people think. You only live once. There is no reason I should have to move to have something as simple as that.”
Call it the rise of the suburban farmer. Urban farming has grown in popularity during the past decade as more health-conscious people clamor for locally grown and organic food options. Both Minneapolis and St. Paul allow back-yard chickens with permitting and other conditions.
Now, some suburban city councils are following suit, but with provisions designed to protect neighbors from unwelcome noise and nuisance. Circle Pines and Centerville enacted ordinances that take effect this month allowing up to four hens — no roosters permitted. The city of Farmington in the south metro has also enacted a chicken ordinance this spring, allowing up to three hens at homes with certain zoning designations. Eagan also has started allowing chickens.
But not every city council has fallen for the charms of the chicken.
Blaine and Coon Rapids do not allow them on standard residential lots, according to their city clerks. Both city councils have discussed changing that in recent years but took no action.
Audrey Matson, owner of Eggplant Urban Farm Supply, said the suburbs can actually be more skittish than big cities when it comes to allowing back-yard coops.
“The suburbs are less likely to allow it even though they have more space,” Matson said. “There’s just concern there’s going to be problems with smelly, badly-made coops and eyesores.”
Matson, who has spoken to city councils on behalf of wannabe chicken owners, says a little education helps local leaders understand that back-yard chicken farming can be quiet, neat and unobtrusive to neighbors.
Matson said she’s definitely seeing more suburban customers asking about chickens.
Even then, it’s still a rare breed of suburban homeowner who takes the leap, one city manager says.
“We don’t expect there will be a lot of applications for this,” said Centerville’s Dallas Larson. “If we get two or three applications in the course of a year, that may be about right. There is a lot of work that goes with [chicken farming]. There are a few people in that organic gardening group that will find it appealing.”
And there are hoops to jump through.
Circle Pines’ new ordinance requires that 70 percent of neighbors grant permission before a $75 two-year permit is issued. It also requires a 10,000-square-foot minimum lot size and an enclosed coop or run.
“The council wanted their neighbors to have some say,” said City Administrator Jim Keinath.
Farmington limits chickens to larger residential properties zoned R-1. The Farmington Planning and Zoning Commission must approve applications. The commission heard its first request last week.
“I don’t expect it will go gangbusters,” said assistant city planner Tony Wippler. “There is a select group of people who raise chickens and I don’t think it’s widespread. I do know more and more communities are doing these things.”
Reinhardt said he decided he wanted chickens after seeing them in friends’ back yards.
“I kind of like them. They made me feel relaxed,” said the disabled army veteran.
He said he’s looking forward to the homegrown eggs. He’s embraced the homegrown food movement and feels the less chemicals and pesticides, the better.
He anticipates his hens will lay about two dozen eggs a week. He uses the manure to fertilize his large vegetable garden.
His four hens, which he bought as chicks, are four different breeds — a gold star, silver laced wine dot, Americana, and Rhode Island red.
“I don’t have names for them, but I know their personalities. I know how they act. “