Preparation is a big part of being able to handle 350 strangers wandering into your backyard. It's also a big part of being a stop of the Tour de Coops on Saturday, November 16. The tour is pretty much exactly what it sounds like: Guests purchase a ticket and take a self-guided tour of some of the best coops in Phoenix. There's also a sustainability festival in conjunction with this year's tour. Getting ready for a barrage of strangers in our yard is a lot of work, but it does provide us with some motivation to get things in order. Here's how we prepare our home and our "girls" for what is -- the most excitement they see all year.
My husband and I have participated in TDC via the Valley Permaculture Alliance for a few years now and attending and/or participating Tour de Coops is a lot more fun than it may sound. Spend a few hours meeting everyone's "girls" and you'll likely be a convert. You'll believe that chickens have personality and can be entertaining and more often than not, find your inner urban farmer planning for a backyard coop of your own.
What's fun about being a stop on the tour? It's the look of surprise on people's faces when they see our bantam chickens are really full grown, or that our girl Ting-Ting lays blue eggs. Our girls bring us joy and we hope to encourage those on the fence to jump into chicken owning. It's convincing a husband that the chickens his wife wants are really going to be easy to take care of that makes it worth it.
So many chickens need good homes and the Phoenix micro agri-community is a wealth of knowledge and inspiration. I signed up for the tour after visiting Boho Farm & Home, a former TDC stop, and realized our space needed a hefty dose of charm before we agreed to be a stop on the tour.
Beyond the normal questions, curious inquiries and families who are looking to start their own flock, we get the folks who linger too long and seem to have zero interest in the chickens or our garden. And the people who wonder if they can tour our '50s-era bomb shelter (no, you can't) or if we built the shelter ourselves (we didn't) but meeting new people is usually fun. And, over the years we've learned that being a stop can help break the ice with our neighbors. We've even had a few offers to buy our house . . . likely because we work extra hard to make it look good.
Most of the time the weather is great. But, one year it drizzled and the back got extra muddy/sandy. Another year, it was so cold, I lost my voice. This year, we created our own challenges in advance of November 16 by adding two new hens to the flock and expanding our vegetable garden and installing shade sails.
Luckily, we began the garden expansion project and planting about a month ago or we'd be in big trouble. Now, we're just in a little trouble, with a checklist a mile long for the week that includes tasks like:
* Finding volunteers, confirming their arrival times, and making sure they check in.
* Briefing our volunteers on duties and safety precautions -- there's a footbath that you walk through between yards to prevent the spread of any disease from coop to coop.
* Rounding up books of interest and facts on our breeds of birds to have on hand.
* Making sure the yard looks great...mowing, picking up stray grapefruits, putting away all the junk that normally sits out (we don't have a garage).
* Cleaning the coop and praying all of the "new girls" get along with the "old girls,"....there was a little blood lost last week, so we'll be sure to have them spend a lot of time free ranging the week before they spend the whole day in the chicken run.
* Making signs about each bird to hang on the coop. (It sounds strange but telling the same story over and over again and IDing each of the five birds for all 350 guests does eventually cause exhaustion and the loss of my voice).
* Installing the signage provided by the VPA to indicate our home is on the tour. Nothing gets your neighbors attention like sticking a giant yellow chicken sign in your yard.
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* Making coffee and providing donuts and fruit for our volunteers.
* Reminding neighbors that there may be a little extra traffic.
Each home usually puts a lot of effort into planning for a bunch of announced visitors, so trust that you'll have a lovely day. The hours on the tour are a little shorter this year, but the tour still stretches until 4 p.m. We hope you'll come on by and say hello, our coop is located in Arcadia area near Arcadia High School. Click here for details on the tour and for information on tickets.