Virginia Homeowner Faces Criminal Charges for Keeping Chickens in Her Backyard

How free do you feel to grow and raise your own food? If you're an Arizona resident, the answer is probably pretty free. Most cities in the Valley allow residents to keep chickens on their property within certain parameters.

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But that's not the case in other places in this country. One Virginia Beach resident is being threatened with criminal charges and fines for wanting to raise a dozen chickens in her backyard. She took her case all the way to the state Supreme Court, but in a sad defeat for food freedom fighters, the court refused to hear her case.

In 2011, Tracy Gugal-Okroy purchased a dozen chicks to keep at her suburban residence. She did everything right, from constructing an elevated coop and fence to securing her neighbors' permission to keep the animals on her property.

She's been keeping the chickens as pets -- her family even named them -- ever since. She also uses them as a source for organic eggs, compost, manure, and fertilizer. It's a practice for which she's now facing criminal charges and possible fines of up to $1,000.

On January 10, 2012, she received notice that she was in violation of a Virginia Beach city ordinance that prohibits raising "poultry" for "agricultural and horticultural uses" within residential districts. She appealed the decision to the City's Zoning Board of Appeals and even presented several letters of support from neighbors. The Board of Appeals upheld the decision. She then took her case to the circuit court, who ruled in agreement with the Zoning Board of Appeals.

In asking the Virginia Supreme Court to hear the case, attorneys argued the lower court's ruling misconstrued the City's ordinances. They point out that "persons are allowed to keep fowl within the City and that the restriction on keeping "poultry" relates to agricultural uses, not keeping chickens as companions and pets."

The attorneys who took up Gugal-Okroy's case have been vocal advocates for food freedom and the rights of small farmers and other community members to grow their own food.

To look up whether or not chickens are prohibited by ordinances in Arizona communities, you can check out this forum for backyard chicken owners.

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