Raising Chickens Gains Popularity in NJ

By Andrea Vasquez

Victor Alfieri prefers to eat local.

Alfieri began growing his own fruits and vegetables about seven years ago.

“And it led toward raising chicken hens, and of course you start to do research about supermarket eggs and the poor quality that’s available to us, so I thought it would be a tremendous benefit to my urban homestead to add chickens,” the caretaker at Big Dog Farm said.

Alfieri — nicknamed the Chicken Man — is part of a growing group of urban homesteaders who want to know exactly where their food comes from. A few years ago, Mike Goldsmith started hearing about backyard chickens and held an informational meeting to gauge interest. He’s now held four annual chicken owners workshops and has seen attendance quadruple since the first year.

“Last year we had close to 200, and this year close to 200. So it’s grown astronomically,” Goldsmith, owner of Mike’s Feed Farm, said.

Jeffrey DelVecchio had a green lifestyle — two Priuses, recycling, a compost pile, vegetable garden and mostly organic foods.

“I knew exactly what these chickens were eating so I knew what was in these eggs,” DelVecchio of New Milford said.

A few months after setting up his coop, DelVecchio got notice that his hens were outlawed. At the end of the three-year battle, he had to pay a $540 fine and send his chickens to a friend.

Many municipalities have old ordinances on the books prohibiting or strictly limiting chickens and farm animals. Woodbridge does not allow backyard chickens, though residents can apply for an exemption.

“Chicken and farm-type animals can cause odors, unwanted sounds, their waste can be a problem. And what happens is, especially with the waste and the feed because the animals are fed outside, they draw unwanted animals,” explained Woodbridge Township Director of Health Dennis Green.

Alfieri counters that regular upkeep prevents odors, other pets are just as germy and roosters — not hens — are the noisy ones. And you don’t need roosters to get eggs.

“We need to start being open-minded to this sort of thing. If my neighbor or a resident in town can have five dogs, then there’s really no reason someone can’t have three or four chickens,” said Alfieri.

“All the work is worth it when my wife is able to come out and harvest our dinner and our breakfast. There’s nothing better,” he said.

As interest grows in urban homesteading, towns are likely to see more push-back from people wanting to grow their own food. And that could mean a change to local laws.

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