Monday, May 17, 2010

Coop Tour Report

The weather conspired with some well-placed publicity to make the second annual Backyard Chicken Coop Bicycle Tour (or the "Tour de Coop") a stunning success.

If you measure success by talking for almost four hours straight to a parade of people in your yard.

I had tried to get to coop #1 before mine, figuring I could be in the opening cohort of bikers and so just stop at my house. Last year, we'd all ridden together, while this year we knew we needed to split bikers into groups. However, as I rode to the first house, I passed people on bikes going the other way. Some of them had papers in their hands.

"Uh-oh," I thought, and sure enough, when I stopped long enough to grab my own map, I realized that Eric was going to be Mr. Chicken Coop and he hadn't signed up for that.

I'd worked some over the weekend to make the yard as presentable as it can be. Hadn't gotten the mulch down, nor finished the dratted brick patio, but it was cleaner than it had been. I'd even painted the coop and the storage cabinets by the patio, reducing (but not eliminating) the amount of primer-white in the yard. Put up a little teepee in front, with a sign on it, and some flowers, so folks on bikes could see this was the stop. I'd even clipped the bushes on the side so people wouldn't feel as though they needed a machete to get in back.

I'd considered making an "in" and "out" aisle for the yard, figuring there would be a need for crowd control. Eric poo-pooed that notion, so I took the path of least resistance. There were some signs up, though, that hopefully would answer some of the most frequent questions people might have -- I couldn't talk to everyone, I guessed.

Oh. My. Goodness.

By the time I got there, the first few people were leaving. I practically had to shove my way into the yard, where there was a crowd that didn't dissipate significantly for the next three and a half hours. According to the folks with the sign-up sheets, about 400 people signed up, with a few declining, and a few just picked up along the route.

It's hard to remember a lot of it. I answered lots and lots of questions about chickens, and how we rear them, and what my daily routine with them is, and why I don't have a predator-proof coop, and what we do with them when they're old, and the garden, and the bees, and the chickens' reactions to the bees, and about a thousand other things.

I generally don't mind talking to people at all.

As you can probably tell.

I did have to ask one of my children for a glass of water, and thought about taking pictures, but realized I couldn't take pictures if I was talking to people, and hugging friends who were stopping by, and answering more questions, and selling out of honey, because people asked, and finding a home for the rooster I'd taken off someone's hands for soup last week (too little for us to kill, but unfortunately old enough to crow) and talking talking talking.

Even Cat got into the act, answering lots of questions about the meat bunnies currently living in our yard. She's pretty matter-of-fact, but apparently some visitors are still shocked at the connection between dead animals and food.

They were a huge hit with the Girl Scout troop doing their own badge in Backyard Poultry.

I kind of wished the garden looked more Sweet-Peaish and less "kale going to seed," but hey, this is what one blogger called "delicious mess." I like pretty yards, but my first priority is food, so beds and irrigation come before landscaping. In a few years, when I figure out how to store the PVC pipes somewhere else, it will look nicer.

Next year, I would label plants in the garden more carefully just for this event. More visitors than I'd expected wanted to know when I'd planted some of the items. Because of my oh-so-fancy labels, I could tell them. I'd also include information about the watering system, and how the neighbors feel, and the story of the first beehive. (Partly I'm writing this down so I don't forget!) The more it would be a self-guided tour, the more I could just host.

Talk talk talk talk talk.

Out front, Eric was fielding questions about anything from rabbits as people left, to would he do it again (of course, that would necessitate him reevaluating his entire life with me), to would he watch the bikes, and telling people where to go, this side, not that side, and the neighbor yelling at him. Until yesterday, she's only yelled at me. . .

He's not what you'd call "a people person," so this was a severe stretch. Especially when I wasn't there yet. However, he rose gracefully to the situation and I only wish I could have watched him in action. However, I was talking.

Notice how close people are standing to the hives? They're on the ground behind the apricot tree. No one got bothered by them at all. I was head-buzzed a few times, and an adorable woman with really short hair had a persistent bee around her head, but she said it didn't bother her. And it didn't, it just buzzed around and around. People were remarkably cool, although I worried what kind of panic a sting would set off.

See the (sometimes unread) signs?

Signs! Right here.

A lot of people wanted to just talk. It was kind of sweet.

Access was something of a problem. Because of the beds, folks ended up sort of lining up. Some pushed past the apricot tree, but a couple of 'cots got knocked off in that process. Better pruning and me standing elsewhere might have helped.

The only negative moment in the whole day was a run-in with the woman who owns the next-door apartment complex. It's visible behind the fruit trees and hives. Apparently (and I wasn't there, since Eric was in the front) folks were laying their bikes down all over out there -- on the sidewalk, the street, and on her lawn in front of the apartments. She fussed at Eric, and then said, "I'm just going to go turn on the sprinklers." So she did, and Eric announced out back that people would want to move their bikes, and that was that. Bad karma for her.

I thought it was really sad. Here people, in record numbers, are out doing something kind of cool, on bikes, for goodness' sake, and you're ticked off because they put their bikes on your yard? It's not as though they were building firepits. Anyhow. . .

At the close of the day, I was pretty shaky. I don't know if I'd eaten, but near the end, our housemate came and told me that she was making dinner. I wanted to hug her or burst into tears, but I think I was still saying, "Yes, we do eat them. No, I don't let them out, you see, they'd destroy the garden. No, I don't notice much smell. They only take a few minutes a day, really. Oh that? That's garlic, these are onions."

Dinner was great.


Jan said...

What an amazing fantastic idea, I love it! A little bit like the UK Open Gardens Scheme, but with much more variety and more young people, which has to be a good thing. Stupid neighbour - what harm would bikes on the lawn do!

Erin said...

You. Are. Amazing! If I lived next door, I would install a bike rack for you and run for water anytime! Very cool that you took the time to do this, chickens are illegal still here and it is people like you who do your part to educate the masses that will then demand change that make the difference. Good on your hubby as well for stepping in! Great photos, and it is all a DELICIOUS MESS! You go garden girl!

Mr. H. said...

Very, very impressive. I got nervous just reading about it, what an interesting adventure.

michelle said...

What a fantastic opportunity to inspire people to dive into their own food production. I hope you told everyone about your blog so that they could learn even more. It sounds like you had a really good bunch of people coming through. Your neighbor, bleh, there's one on every block.

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

One of our observations of this tour was that you could tell which spouse or partner was more into the chickens, and which one was sort of along for the ride. The latter would be stationed at the greeting station with a slightly stunned look on their face, while the former patiently answered the same seventeen questions over and over and over again.

Did you recognize my arty Edward Hopper-esque photo of your sweet peas on my blog?

Momma_S said...

How wonderful! I'll definitely mark my calendar for next year (and bring a snack for you too LOL). I hope you've encouraged others in the Bay area to do more "homesteading" tasks...

chaiselongue said...

What a fantastic day - and look what your difficult neighbour was missing! I hope lots of people will decide to keep chickens now that you've encouraged them. Great photos of the event!

Ottawa Gardener said...

That sounds seriously amazing. What a treasure you and your garden are. I mean it. I think it is great that people realize that it's okay, practical, even fun to have food in the city. CLUCK Ottawa is working to overturn the bylaw that doesn't allow hens in the cities so we're pretty much working on convincing people that growing rhubarb as a decorative and edible is a great idea. Very inspring and looks like you had a beautiful day for it too.

kitsapFG said...

Good work! So you did not get water/food... I imagine you needed a restroom pretty bad by the end of the day too! LOL!

I love sharing my garden with others. It can be a little overwhelming to answer all the questions, but when someone WANTS to know about it - it's all worth it.

Would have loved to have joined the throng - get you water, give you a hug, and listen to, talk, talk. :D

Curbstone Valley Farm said...

Oh my goodness, what a fun but hectic afternoon you had! I really must do the tour next year, I'm rather sorry I missed it. It is exhausting talking to people for that long, but I'm glad you were greeted with a lovely dinner at the end of the day.

Heiko said...

So you did some talking then? I'm sure you inspired some people. When are you down our way?

Jackie said...

What a great event! It must be exhausting being a "chicken ambassador". Too bad about the mean neighbor. Some people need to spend more time gardening, so they have less time to be hateful :)

Kate and Crew said...

Coolest thing I've read about in a long time. Awesomeness!! My chickens must remain on the serious down-low thanks to their not-quite-legal status according to our HOA. Sigh. Would be nice to come out of the chicken closet like that.
I'm not especially social so that many people would have wigged me out a bit - but an awesome way to introduce people to your garden.
About the meat rabbits - I didn't know you did that! Are they a special breed (like broiler chickens). And do you slaughter and dress them yourselves or do you have someone do that for you? I'll have to search your blog for the scoop on that.

Pretty freakin' cool!!!!!!!

Christina said...

Sorry for the ugly neighbor, but otherwise, WHAT A DAY! Exhausting, sure, but exhilarating too! Thank you for putting so much effort into sharing the joy of food production with so many.

Stefaneener said...

Jan, thanks. It's really a small group of people putting this together, but I think the public in general sees this as more interesting now than a few years ago. The neighbor, yeah, she's a puzzle.

Erin, you'd be a great neighbor. I hope chickens stay legal in our area -- people are happy with them, but there's the inevitable person who claims that they're loud and bothersome and smelly. And they can be -- even the nicest hens are noisy sometimes, but so are dogs (and children) and no one is outlawing them. Eric really was a trooper not only for doing the talking but for doing so much of the heavy lifting.

Mr. H., I know mobs of people aren't your thing. I was just a tiny bit worried about liability with the mess and the bees. Maybe we'll have people sign waivers next year.

Michelle, maybe it will help people change the things they can imagine. The neighbor fortunately doesn't live next door to us, but at the end of the block. She owns the apartment there, though, and visits frequently. . . sigh. I have plans for next year's tour more about the garden.

Lisa, you're probably right. Eric said he answered question after question, but to a lot of them, the answer was, "Ask Stefani." He is cheerful about doing what I ask him to do but in no way would he ever do this on his own. I DID recognize the pretty picture on your blog. You did them proud.

Momma_S., I'll try to remember to tell you about it again next year. I'd take that snack (and press you into being the garden tour giver or something).

chaiselongue, I hope it made people at least more open to different things. Yeah, if I liked this woman I'd give her tomatoes or something but I think it's just not going to happen. The residents of the next door place get stuff, though. They have to deal with the noise from the hens; the owner doesn't.

OG, that's very sweet. It just makes so much sense to me that it's nice to share it with people who are at least open to the new.

kitsapFG, it was kind of challenging!
I am always wondering why other people don't want to wander through vegetable gardens as much as I do. But that's just the way it goes.

CVF, I hope there's a next year. It will give me incentive to have the watering system fully operational. It would be nice to have faces to put to local names.

Hey, Heiko, I sure did. I'm your way right now and I'm going to email you.

Jackie, it's easy a lot of the time, just a big deal when there are appreciative crowds. This neighbor is great in that she's really on top of her yard, although it's not my style, and she's active although sort of older and widowed, but I don't get the "I like my yard this way; yours has to match" mentality. After all, I don't demand that she uproot her lawn and grow lettuce!

Kate, I know your chickens are in disguise or something. Fortunately, I'm hugely social most of the time, so the crowds were pretty great, just a bit tiring. The rabbits are actually my lovely housemates'. She does the butchering and hide-tanning and such. They are a special meat breed, but I don't remember if they're New Zealand or some other kind. They're a lovely gray.

Christina, she didn't ruin my day, just a good story. Thank you so much. I'm actually looking forward to doing it again . . . in a year.

Susan said...

What a great event. Really wish we could have been there. Thanks for the recap! It was great to read.