Monday, August 5, 2013

Chickens Have Arrived!

For many months now, we've been busy planning, organizing, building, moving, discussing, and planning some more to bring chickens to Marra Farm. We’re happy to announce that the hens finally arrived at Marra Farm in late July, officially kicking off the start of a South Park chicken cooperative.

Our 17 happy hens are finally home, but getting them there took months of planning and years of dreaming and scheming.

The Planning

Long before my AmeriCorps term began, Lettuce Link Program Manager Michelle Bates-Benetua and Marra Farm Coordinator Sue McGann imagined a day when the farm would be home to chickens. But this past fall that dream started to become a reality when Kate, a University of Washington undergraduate student visited us with the idea of making Marra Farm a home to rescued hens. Soon after that, a UW nursing graduate student, Louise, contacted us with a similar idea in mind.

We met together for the first time in December and formulated a plan to:
  • Educate ourselves about chickens, including coop designs, care requirements, and breeds;
  • Chat with South Park residents to see if a Marra Farm chicken cooperative was actually something community members wanted; and
  • Apply for a Duwamish River Healthy Community Grant for funds to get the project jump-started. 

Fortunately, the Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition named us as a grant recipient, and along with funding other community leadership development projects, the money is purchasing feed for the hens until the cooperative become self-sufficient.

In January, we were joined by Malia, another UW nursing student, and by the end of the month, we were full swing with planning and outreach.

After talking to neighbors in South Park, it became clear that there was definitely demand and desire for a chicken cooperative, where each family has a weekly shift caring for the hens and collecting the eggs. Kate’s original idea of a rescued-hen sanctuary wasn't going to work out, but a chicken cooperative was slowly forming.

The Community Meetings

We hosted our first community meeting at the South Park Community Center in February, thanks to the generosity of Carmen and the staff who stepped in to provide meeting space. At our first meeting, eight South Park residents attended. Word spread, and with each subsequent meeting we had a few more neighbors join us.

Today, there are 23 community members involved in caring for the chickens, serving as substitutes on the schedule, or providing resources and expertise.

The Coop

As luck would have it, we were contacted by friends of Marra Farm - Lydia and Jared - who were moving out of state and wanted to see if we wanted their beautiful, already-built chicken coop. We gave them an enthusiastic yes!

But then, when we visited the coop, reality set in. Moving a two-ton chicken coop out of someone's backyard was not going be an easy feat.

Then, Derek and Rod at Walsh Construction entered the project. They put their heads together and formulated a plan to donate the truck, tools, and expertise to move the coop all the way from Rainier Beach to Marra Farm. With a few sets of extra hands from cooperative members and a lot of grunting and groaning and pushing and pulling, we got our new coop in place.

So now all we needed was to build a chicken run and get some hens. Sound simple? Well, as it turns out, not so.

The Run

Residents of South Park, Meredith and Geoff, put their heads together and came up with a magnificent design for the run. But, at some point along the way, we decided to expand a little so we dug a two-foot deep trench around the perimeter of a run that was nearly three times the size of the original design. (I say “we” dug the trenches, but it was actually the many Marra Farm Giving Garden volunteers who did the digging.)

Then, even though the trenches were dug, we still needed to raise money for the supplies to build the run.

And once again our stars were aligned, because a local wine distributor company, Young’s Market Northwest, chose Marra Farm as their company volunteer project. Amazingly, they agreed to not only provide the labor to build our run, but would raise the funds to do so.

After a month of fundraising, planning and organizing, chicken co-op members and a team of 50 people from Young’s built the run in one very long day in June. Special thanks must go to MeChelle with Young’s, who dedicated over 40 hours of her own time pulling this project together!

So, by the end of June, here was our status:
  • Community interest: check
  • Coop: check
  • Run: check
  • Chickens: 

The Long-Awaited Arrival

We had a few last-minute tasks to complete first. Cooperative member Barrett used his carpentry skills to make some adjustments to the coop and run. We finalized (and re-finalized) the schedule assigning families to shifts for chicken care, and then we were ready.

In mid-July, Pedro and I drove my minivan to Baxter Barn in Fall City and purchased our 17 girls.

I thought the ride home would be stinky and noisy, but to my surprise, it was nothing like the chaos I expected. In fact, I hardly heard a cluck.

We arrived at Marra Farm to a coop cleaned by Meredith, Bea and Cole, and one by one we carefully carried our hens to their new home.

And thus, a new, chicken-filled chapter at Marra Farm began. 


We can’t possibly sum up our gratitude to the many, many people who made the chickens at Marra Farm a reality. It has truly been a community effort.

In addition to our cooperative members, we’d like to extend a special thanks to Kate and Louise. This project wouldn't have gotten off the ground if it wasn't for the hours and hours (and more hours) they put in to ensure the cooperative’s success.

Stay tuned for more stories and blog updates about the chickens. We’re thrilled that they’re finally home!

~Amanda Horvath, Lettuce Link AmeriCorps member emeritus

(The Lettuce Link staff also extends a huge thanks to Amanda for her immense amount of dedication to the project, including organizing meetings, developing the roster and care schedule for cooperative members, digging trenches, purchasing feed, writing a hen-care manual, and finally, picking up the chickens. This project could not have happened without her.)

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