Help is on the way for experienced poultry enthusiasts and wanna-be backyard chicken keepers alike. Purina and Gateway Greening teamed up to build a demonstration teaching coop at Bell Community Garden. Longtime chicken fan and gardening expert P. Allen Smith traveled to St. Louis early in May with his film crew to create entertaining, educational segments for television and radio about this unique community coop.
“This is a chicken coop on steroids,” P. Allen Smith told the Bell gardeners gathered at the coop. “You’ve re-purposed a tool shed, and you’ve got room for the girls to scratch and peck safe from predators. You even left a great tree stump. When one of those hens declares herself Mayor, this will be perfect for her stump speeches.”
The palatial coop will be open to the public beginning Sat., June 2, when the Tour de Plants bike tour kicks off from Bell Garden. The event, co-sponsored by Gateway Greening and TrailNet, begins at 8:30am. Folks who don’t care to bike can join in the celebration from 11am to 1pm.
“We’ll have Jersey giants, silver-laced Wyandottes, Cochins, buff Brahmas, Araucanas,” says James Anderson, who raised 20 young birds in his own backyard coop that will move to the Community Coop early in June.
Gateway Greening provides training, resources and support to more than 200 community and youth gardens in the greater St. Louis community. Each garden contributes to the health and wellness of its community as residents raise food and build alliances with neighbors. In urban areas, gardens provide needed green space and often help stabilize neighborhoods.
Michael Sorth, executive director of Gateway Greening, believes community coops will do more than provide gardeners with fresh eggs and the entertainment of watching chickens.
“Chickens bring us back in touch with who we are and what we offer,” Sorth says. “The community coop is an extension of the garden. At the end of the day, the sharing resources and interactions – that’s the power of people to strengthen communities.
“Coops in community gardens provide space for people who don’t live where they can raise chickens,” Sorth says. “The gardeners at Bell will be managing the coop on a daily basis. That’s our model. The people at each garden decide how it runs. We are there for support.”
Mary Corley, marketing manager for Land O’Lakes Purina Feed, says, “We share a passion [with Gateway Greening] for educating people and growing food. Our mission is the healthy care and management of animals through better breeding, feeding, management and health.” The Bell lady chickens (city chickens are all ladies, no roosters allowed) will chow down on Land O’Lakes feed.
Throughout the summer, the Bell demonstration garden will host educational events about raising backyard poultry. The schedule will be posted on the Gateway Greening website. Each Saturday from 9am to noon, Bell Garden is open to the public. Staffers and gardeners are on hand to answer questions, talk gardens and chickens.
Gateway Greening's Bell Demonstration Garden, 3871 Bell Ave., gatewaygreening.org