Free-range, grass-fed: Demand for organic foods driving Cobb’s current backyard chicken dilemma
by Lindsay Field
January 29, 2013 12:41 AM | 5368 views | 22 22 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Julia and Shane Botsko of Kennesaw buy broccoli at the Marietta Square Farmers Market from Nancy Bray at the booth for Bray Family Farms in Power Springs.<br>Staff/Emily Barnes
Julia and Shane Botsko of Kennesaw buy broccoli at the Marietta Square Farmers Market from Nancy Bray at the booth for Bray Family Farms in Power Springs.
Staff/Emily Barnes
slideshow

MARIETTA — Farming in Cobb County was once done on rural landscapes and wide-open vistas populated by a few far-flung silos and farmhouses. Not anymore. Today’s Cobb County farm is only a few acres and likely to be surrounded by strip shopping centers and subdivisions. When the cock crows at one of these “urban farms,” someone’s going to hear it. When manure is hauled out of a coop, someone’s going to smell it. These two worlds can coexist, say those who follow the organic and eat-local movements, but that doesn’t mean tensions won’t rise on occasion, as they did last week at a public hearing on the county’s chicken ordinance. Today’s health-conscious shopper is looking for “free-range,” “grass-fed,” “organic” and “certified naturally grown” so they may be more willing to endure the potential downsides of the movement. But not all have seen the light.

And at last week’s hearing, tempers flared on both sides. One man was led away in handcuffs.



Foods that ease the conscience



Brooke Schembri, a registered dietitian with WellStar, said the benefits go beyond that of physical health. Eating locally produced food is good not only for the body but also for the environment, and your own conscience, she said.

“I definitely recommend eating organic food whenever possible,” she said.

Schembri points clients to two separate lists that could help them eat better: the “Dirty Dozen” and the “Clean 15.”

The shoppers’ guides are written by the Environmental Working Group, which is a team of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers who review government data and conduct their own lab tests to expose threats to consumers’ health and the environment while looking for solutions, according to the group’s website.

The Dirty Dozen is a list of the 12 fruits and vegetables that typically have the highest level of pesticides, and the Clean 15 is a list of the 15 fruits and vegetables with the lowest pesticides. High levels of pesticides have been linked to cancer, nerve cell damage, infertility and impaired fetal development, Schembri said.



Clucking about chickens



As for the environment, specifically dealing with chickens, she said some people are concerned about what large-scale commercial chicken farms may do to increase pollution or greenhouse gas emissions because they rely on trucks to transport the birds long distances.

Another reason that some choose to raise their own chickens or stick to eating only organic or free-range chicken eggs, has to do with people being upset with how the chickens are raised.

“(Free-range chickens) are in a more natural living environment, as opposed to a chicken house that could have 50,000 chickens packed in,” Schembri said.

Over the last few years, Schembri said these potential hazards and awareness have piqued consumers’ interests and steered them towards the free-range, grass-fed, organic or certified naturally grown routes.

She also thinks people are just interested in supporting their local farmers if they can.



Where the farm meets the public



Joseph Pond is a resident of east Cobb whose family enjoys locally raised meat. He tried explaining the benefits of local food production to the Cobb County Commission in an attempt to keep his backyard chicken coop.

“My wife is a very health-conscious vegetarian who came to me one day and said, ‘I want to raise chickens,’” he said. “I thought she was out of her mind and then two years later, I OK’d it.”

Pond dug into the how-tos of the practice, researched the benefits and even visited a few coops to determine which kind of birds to raise.

In raising his nearly dozen hens, Pond said he noticed the eggs were much larger than store-bought eggs and he personally could taste the difference.

Although the family got rid of their coop about a year and a half ago due to a county ordinance, Pond said they continue to try and buy organic or free-range eggs.

Pond also said he believes there has been a movement towards these routes of picking foods over the last couple years because people are “just more health conscious than they used to be.”

“People are eating better, trying to fight obesity,” he said. “They don’t know what kinds of hormones are put into these eggs, and they either don’t know what the process is, or they do know what the process is.”



An old farm springs back to life



Andy Bray is one west Cobb resident who has been able to keep his coop because he’s living on the right amount of acreage. He operates Bray Family Farms in Powder Springs.

At his 23-acre farm, which has been in Bray’s family for at least three generations, he raises around 300 free-range chickens and collects their eggs. He has about a dozen each of grass-fed cows, goats and pigs, and grows organic fruits and vegetables.

“I’m not certified organic, but we do organic practices,” he said. “I don’t try to buy into that hype. I’m not going to pay somebody $650 a year to say I’m organic.”

He said all his meat is USDA approved.

Bray also said they haven’t been practicing free-range, grass-fed or organic for long but decided to take these routes because they wanted to lean towards providing a healthier product for consumers.

“Across the board, everybody is wanting to get away from the growth hormones and antibiotics used in conventional farming,” he said.

His family recently purchased the old Griffin Farms, a 15.4-acre property on Powder Springs Road, to start up the same type of set-up.

Bray said they will hire interns to live in the farmhouse and help tend to the animals and vegetation and manage a roadside stand that sells directly to the public.

“We’ve already got part of it plowed up to get ready for spring planting but will try to open the farm stand in the next month or so,” he said.

The property will also become an “agra tourism” spot for his family business.

They plan to host farm-to-table dinners, allow visitors to purchase their produce and make it an attraction for people.

“We’re turning Griffin Farms back into a working farm,” he said. “The whole nine yards but with the main focus for the public to come and check us out.”



Hitting the markets



In the meantime, Bray sells his meats and vegetables at various farmers markets throughout the metro Atlanta area, including the Marietta Farmers Market on the Square, and according to the local market director Johnny Fulmer, he’s one of many vendors who have chosen to grow organic foods and raise free-range and grass-fed animals.

“People want to buy local and buy nutritious,” Fulmer said, adding that a majority of his younger vendors are focused on the practices.

“I would personally never go into a store and look to see what’s in a product … but we have customers who look to see what the ingredients are in a peach jelly, how fresh is it or if it has any preservatives in it,” he said.

Fulmer also said vendors who raise free-range chickens and their eggs typically sell them for upwards of $5 a dozen and sell out every weekend. That’s also the case for many of the organic fruits, vegetables and free-range meats.

“The young customers, mostly in their early 30s, are the driving force behind this organic or certified naturally grown movement,” he said. “They have young children and want to feed them pesticide-free foods.”



More coops coming?




Neil Tarver, an agriculture agent with the University of Georgia/Cobb County Extension Office, also said the interest in planting organic gardens or keeping chickens has grown, and he often gets calls about how to start one or both.

“I haven’t heard a lot of people ask specifically about free-range verses conventional chickens, but increased interest in producing your own food in general has gone up,” he said.

“I would say that a good percentage is interested in doing organic because safety of the food is one of their main concerns. They are concerned about what’s going into it, how it’s imported, etc….”

Tarver doesn’t believe the organic or “keeping it local” movements will cut into the pockets of conventional farmers.

“The farmers who were mainly doing it are the small ones and they have such a small portion of the market, they aren’t making a difference competitively to farmers,” he said, adding that it would be very costly and labor intensive if farmers with lots of acreage to go solely organic.

“I’m a firm believer in organic practices,” he said. “But on a large scale, it’s going to be very hard for a farmer to make a profit using organic.”
Comments
(22)
Comments-icon Post a Comment
L.Evans
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February 03, 2013
Get a good Rooster, He will be the protecter

of the Hens.
LennyC,INN
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January 31, 2013
Not one mention of GMO's or even labeling. Who's buttering your multigrain bread?
Sensible Solutions
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January 29, 2013
The time to change this 40 year old ordinance is now. The facts show that there is really no reason why a person shouldn't be allowed to have chickens. Put a limit based on the size of the lot, or say no to roosters, but make it work. Atlanta allows up to 25 chickens WITHOUT a permit! I thought this quote from Chairman Lee was interesting -

“Chickens are not domestic animals as I define them, and I have no interest in having that issue grow as it relates to people’s backyards and neighborhoods,” Lee said.

Who is Lee to define what a domestic animal is? Because HE doesn't want a chicken, we shouldn't either? I thought he was to represent us, not his own wishes. He can buy all the crappy eggs he wants at Kroger. I want better for my family.
There already are
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January 29, 2013
limits to the size of the lot required (2 acres). Chickens are livestock, not domesticated pets. Do you want your chickens to live in the house with you?
Sensible Solutions
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January 29, 2013
I want to do whatever I want on my own property as long as it doesn't harm my neighbors. Many people keep chickens as pets, pets that lay eggs vs. dogs that do nothing. 3 laying hens produce the same amount of poop as a 40 pound dog. The ordinance of 2 acres means 97% of people in Cobb can't have chickens. It's ridiculous. Let's be fair. We'll keep the 2 acres for chickens and change the law so that you need 2 acres and have to pay a $1000.00 fee for dogs over 40 pounds.
Who is to
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January 30, 2013
determine what would harm your neighbors? Your neighbors or your own near-sightedness? And if you can get rid of annoying dogs, I'm ALL for it!
sandie17
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January 29, 2013
I either grow or purchase only organic foods. If I want free range/grassfeed, I buy it. If I want fresh organic vegetables, I grow them. I do not want chickens next to my home. I grew up around chickens, I am very familiar with the odor and the crowing. No thanks. You want chickens, move to the country.

Thank you, sandie...
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January 29, 2013
The majority of us in Cobb County feel the way you do. It seems the Chicken Gestapo has taken over the comments section of the MDJ.
Live and Let Live
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January 29, 2013
Why does it have to be all or nothing? The Commissioners could put forth a plan that forbids roosters and limits the number of chickens you can have. The MDJ online poll was 74% FOR chickens. Not everyone can afford to go to Harry's and buy organic.
Joseph Pond
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January 29, 2013
Hens do not crow. The coops smell only if you do not take care of them, just like your backyard does if you do not clean up after your dogs. In the event that someone has loud birds they can call Animal Control, just as you when dogs bark nonstop. Oddly enough, neither Roswell nor Atlanta is overrun by loud smelly chickens although they are legal in both places.

I would love to know where you get the notion that the majority of Cobb County does not want poultry. The poll in this paper suggests that 75% of the county wants change in the ordinance. Changing the ordinance would not allow birds in HOAs that ban them,
LOL at the MDJ poll
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January 30, 2013
Yes, I'm sure the majority of Cobb County residence read the on-line version of the MDJ. As much as the paper would like, I wouldn't consider it a barometer of the thoughts of Cobb County as a whole.
Kristin Picken
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January 29, 2013
I am happy to see an article on the front page of the MDJ that explores why and how people are living healthier lives when it comes to their food choices. Come on Cobb County and Marietta City! Why can't I have a few chickens in my backyard that can enjoy some sun on their beaks rather than languish in an industrial henhouse somewhere? Young families want fresh organinc eggs from their backyard and the expericne of caring for the animals as pets. Other counties and cites in the local Atlanta area allow their residents to have small flocks. Why can't we?
Enough MDJ
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January 29, 2013
How many 'chicken' stories do you need to run every week? Is there a quota? We've heard the arguments for and against, either put it on the ballot, or let it go already.
Mrs. Cobb
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January 29, 2013
How lovely. Our family started to eat differently a few years ago. Now I have a big garden and buy lots of food from local farmers, including the Bray family. I buy less and less from the grocery store. I didn't know you couldn't have chickens in Cobb County, how strange. I grew up with pet chickens in my in-town suburban yard (different city). I don't want any now...but if my neighbor brough over fresh eggs very now and then I would love it. Why doesn't Cobb allow this I wonder. It's very popular. I even read an article in Southern Living about raising pet chickens.
Joseph Pond
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January 29, 2013
Poultry is allowed in Cobb County, as the County Attorney will be quick to point out, provided your lot is TWO acres or larger, and the coop can be at least 100 feet from ANY property line. This is part of the original 1972 Cobb County Code, written when two acre lots were the norm. Of course, only 3% of Cobb County is zoned two acres or more...
4Chix
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January 29, 2013
Yes! People across the nation are looking for healthier ways to feed their families and owning backyard chickens will go along way in furthering that goal. The more you know about owning chickens, the more sense it makes. The questions is, are the Cobb Commissioners listening?
judge case by case
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January 29, 2013
Why can't people have chicken coops in their backyards? This should be decided upon case by case. I think it is silly for people to just get hysterical over someone having chickens.

Do you want a
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January 29, 2013
Chicken Commission? Seriously? This county can't even scratch together enough money to mow the medians or pay the teachers and you want them to spend money on this?
VFP42
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January 29, 2013
1.

I would suggest any anti-chicken people hop in their cars and go over to the Krogers and pick up a chicken breast. Then drive over to the Publix and pick up another chicken breast. Then drive over to Harry's and pick up a final chicken breast. (Do this is any order, just get one from each place). Compare them side by side. Note that the Publix and Kroger breasts are about twice the size of the Harry breast. Why is that, you might wonder? Well! Kroger and Publix sell chickens that are pumped full of so much growth junk that they become outrageously sized to the point where they can barely stand. It's compeltely articifical, like Nikki Minaj, but the majority of us eat it up, hmm, like Nikki Minaj (ask your kid).

Now cook all three chicken breasts (you can cooke the Kroger and Publix breasts in the same pot/pan/whatever, but keep the Harry's one separate from them please). Cut them open and take a look. The differences in appearance are drastic. Now have a bite of each. Compare and contrast (like in 9th grade English class, but in your head). Finally, throw away the two inferior ones and eat the rest of the good one. Which one did you eat? Well, some folks will have eaten the "most weight for the money" one, probably Krogers, but look at the long term costs please. You eat that bulk of material, and it contains calories but lacks nutrients, like a soda. What do you get for your money? Morbid obesity.

The shift in agri-poultry has been so gradual most people never noticed (like when juice went from 64 ounces to 59.4 ounces, did you notice?), but in this light of direct comparison you will clearly see what has happened. Harry's chicken is just plain chicken like we all ate back in the 60s and 50s and prior. Kroger and Publix sell, basically, carnival freaks. Consider if the chicken were your spouse. Next to a healthy 20something your spouse likely looks awful (since no 20something in their right mind would be reading the "for old eyes only" MDJ) , but did you really notice the decline of your spouse over 20 years as it happened? Nope. Sometimes it becomes apparent, but unless it comes up you don't notice. It's the same with chicken. The stores around here, with the excpetion of Harry (and Life Grocery IF they sell meat but I suspect they are Vegan fasci-hippies over there), sell Frankenchicken. Harry got bought up by Whole Foods, aka WHole Paycheck. Sooner or later the BOD will realize they can increase the BL@TEOD via agri-farming and whole foods will inevitably suffer the inevitable decline of Capitalizm. We need to be ramping up our own abilities to feed oursevles based on not only this, but hey, Obama is coming for our guns right?

2.

Do it for the children. USA people lack basic life-and-living experiences such as chicken coops. See Sandy Hook if you want to know why this is a problem for all of us. End the isolation. End the plants that abstrach the death of all our food for us. Perhaps if we see a little life and death in our own back yard chickens, we will be LESS likely to kill? Currently it seems all pastimes increase the likelihood that people will kill.

3. If you feel this comment is too long, just don't read it. Bits are cheap, and I am now done with my coffee so off I go.
yes thank you
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January 29, 2013
VFP42, I hope you can hear my applause! Thank you for your post!
No chicken
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January 29, 2013
Are you talking about "chickens"?

As CHICKENS grow up, they become hens or roosters. If the stores were to sell CHICKEN breasts, you wouldn't get much food (and complain again).
VFP42
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January 30, 2013
Am I talking about chickens hens or roosters? Do you really intend to derail discussion with a distraction based on semantics?

I am talking about whatever it is the Kroger and Publix and Whole Foods all sell with "CHICKEN" on its label. I am not sure I would call it chicken or hens or roosters at Publix and Kroger, but whatever it is, the label does say "chicken" so when I refer to it I will use the term "chicken" (as long as Commissioner Lee says that is permissible, of course).

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