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Local Interest in CR Backyard Chickens Growing

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa More chickens may be finding homes in Cedar Rapids backyards this spring, as local leaders say they've observed an increasing interest in raising "urban chickens" allowed by the 19-month-old city ordinance.

On Saturday afternoon, more than 40 people gathered at the Indian Creek Nature Center, 6665 Otis Rd. SE, to attend a workshop about how to raise chickens under the ordinance. Attendees could receive a certificate at the end of the hour-long session, which is required for getting a $25 annual city permit to raise the chickens.

Since the City Council approved the ordinance in July 2010, Indian Creek Nature Center employees have been hosting the workshops about once a month. Saturday's attendance of more than 40 people was "by far the largest turnout" they'd seen since the very first workshop, said Rebecca Mumwaw, an executive board member of the Nature Center and president of Cedar Rapids Citizens for the Legalization of Urban Chickens (CLUC).

"I think [locals] are getting more interested in their food and if their food is healthy," Mumwaw said.

Mumwaw, who helped spearhead the passing of the urban chicken ordinance, attributed the growing interest to an overall push towards sustainable practices as well as a reaction to recent nationwide tainted food scares.

As of last October, city officials said 28 families had taken out a yearly permit for raising backyard chickens. Mumwaw said Saturday the number is still between 20-30 families, but interest in the required workshops is growing.

At Saturday's workshop, residents of all ages learned about the ins and outs of the city's ordinance, as well as tips on how to house, feed, and care for the chickens. When asked how many in the audience planned on getting chickens this year, nearly everyone raised their hand.

Rich Patterson, director of the Indian Creek Nature Center, spoke for much of the presentation, drawing on his experience of raising chickens for more than 50 years. He lives outside of Cedar Rapids and owns 13 chickens within city limits, residents are limited to six hens per single family property.

After giving away freshly laid eggs to audience members for trivia questions, Patterson talked about the many benefits of owning chickens.

"Chickens are a great way for adults to help your children learn that food comes from the land," he said.

Patterson's neighbor, Cammy Franklin, also educated attendees on the different types of breeds one can own. Franklin, who also lives outside city limits and owns 22 chickens, explained that certain breeds can be more family friendly, such as the Barred Rock. Mumwaw stood nearby as Franklin spoke, holding her Barred Rock hen, named Maxine after her grandmother.

Cedar Rapids residents Brian and Melinda Welbes, attended the workshop with their son Michael, a student at Roosevelt Middle School, 300 13th St. NW. The family has been interested in owning backyard chickens for about a year, Brian Welbes said.

He and Melinda explained they look forward to building the coop together, raising the chickens, and of course the main perk: eggs.

"All of our friends are excited about the free eggs," Melinda Welbes said, laughing. One of the main benefits will be valuable lessons learned, Brian Welbes said.

"I don't see how it couldn't be educational," he said. "It's pretty much doomed to be educational."

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