There’s something about collecting eggs from a chicken coop that tugs at our subconscious, a human desire for home, warmth and safety. If you can find an egg in the straw, you can count yourself lucky.
Not many people still hold fond memories of collecting fresh, warm eggs in the early morning on the family farm. I’m lucky enough to remember filtered sunlight coming through the slats of the hen house on my grandma’s farm in South Dakota as we went on our treasure hunt from roost to roost. I’d collect eggs with delighted wiggles, she with her deferred smile, and, of course, experienced instruction. Our precious collectibles were always gathered in her ever-present apron. Ah, that was a good summer. And I never wanted to leave.
Leave we do, but the memory lives on. To celebrate that feeling of a fine-feathered home, organizers of Laguna Beach’s first Tour de Coop are asking residents and enthusiasts of the homegrown food movement to hop on a bike this Sunday, Nov. 3, and tour 12 chicken coops from the canyon’s acres to hillside urban farms. That’s not a bunch of horse feathers either. Yes, Laguna Beach is going country.
The free bike tour, sponsored by SEEDS Arts and Education, starts at 9 a.m. at Anneliese Schools’ Willowbrook campus, 20062 Laguna Canyon Road. Bicyclists can either ride there or drive and ride their bikes from there. Or riders who covet their Sunday snooze time can pass on the canyon cluck and ride to a second check-in at 10:30 a.m. at 487 Shadow Lane near Bluebird Park.
“Instead of city-dwellers, I guess we’re kind of like farmers,” said Tim Jones, one of the “coopsters” on the tour. Jones’s coop in Bluebird Canyon is a veritable co-op of chickens, cats, dogs and a bunny co-habitating, and surviving. Somehow, he said, it’s working. “I don’t know how, maybe we just have good vibes; I don’t get it either,” he said. The dog mothers the chicks, the cat hangs with the bunny and they all love to play.
Jones and his wife Linda enjoy evenings in their backyard with some wine and cheese, watching their barnyard brood. “They all have different personalities,” he said. “They’re always very entertaining.”
Before the self-guided tour begins on Sunday, riders, with neighborhood coop maps in hand, will get a chance to listen to Helia Buyck, the volunteer caretaker of all things winged for the past 22 years at Anneliese School.
Cluckers, she said, are smarter than they look. Buyck will relate stories from her just-finished first book, “If Chickens Could Talk.” She’ll let tourers know what chickens need to thrive in backyard bliss. “They are much more intelligent than people think,” said Buyck. “People don’t know anything about chickens. I tell people how loveable they can be.” And, she added as a teaser to her stories, they watch each other’s backs.
Although there are more coops than 12 flying under the radar around town, as chickens tend to do, the coopsters willing to ruffle their Sunday feathers for welcomed gawkers say they’re within city regs.
Jim Beres, the city’s animal control supervisor, said he had no clue about the chicken coops or the tour. “They’re going to 12 different locations in town that have chicken coops? Hmm, that’s interesting,” he commented.
Beres said the city code allows for chickens as long as they have a house and a fenced runway. “I guess if we’ve got 12 coops in town, it’s more common than we were aware of,” he said. “Maybe those people are doing it in such a respectful manner, it’s evidently not bothering the neighbors.”
The code does regulate the number and noise of household dogs, he cited. “But what about a rooster?” he asked rhetorically. “You know what it does, and it crows. We can’t really use that code for the rooster because…roosters crow. If the city chooses to allow roosters, which it does, we can’t cite people because the rooster crows.”
Beres said there’s been “a couple” of complaints about crack-of-dawn cockle-doodle-do’s in Bluebird Canyon. “That doesn’t necessarily represent the view of everybody up there. They may not mind it. Maybe some of them find it quaint,” he said
“Chickens are actually quieter than dogs,” claims Reem Khalil, who, along with friend Kerry Bowers, seeded the tour. “We wanted it to be a community event, bringing people together to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle in an urban environment. It’s doable,” she said.
Happy chickens, it seems, come from Laguna Beach. City code prohibits raising the gamely birds for, say, dinner at 6; no stalking of the hens, no chicken soup from the coops here.
“Chickens aren’t just a commodity,” said Khalil. “They are loving pets.” Pets that produce eggs for poaching, yes, and droppings for garden compost.
If you ask any of the coopsters on the tour if they eat their chickens, they only gulp. Many of the urban farmers are also vegetarian. “Uh,” gasped Julia Becker, astonished at the question. “No, we don’t eat them.” Becker and her daughters Lucinda and Clara raise money to buy chickens for people in third world countries, where they probably do raise them and eat them. Buyck said she’s a vegetarian, too, especially after watching documentaries on livestock slaughterhouses and the treatment of corporate-farmed animals.
Laguna didn’t pull a California coup on the coop tour. Davis, Berkeley and Alameda all have tours, some for years. Phoenix even offers a parade replete with bike floats. But Jones said some of his hometown chickens lay eggs he’s never seen before. “I never knew there were green eggs,” he remarked. Ham anyone?