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Lake Elmo allows chickens, bees in smaller yards
Natasha Fleischman took in a brood of chickens when a friend was forced to get rid of the fowl.
“I really thought they were fun to have around,” the Lake Elmo resident said. “They come running when you call them. They’re fun to watch.
“There’s something so fulfilling about going out and getting your own eggs. For three years, I didn’t buy eggs at a grocery store, ever.”
She said it didn’t really save her money, but noted it just felt good to eat food from her backyard.
Fleischman, who owns a Stillwater bakery and is a school board member of the Stillwater Area School District, worked on a committee around five years ago, looking for ways to offer area residents more access to locally grown food.
Excited about the possibility of chickens as a homegrown source, she contacted her councilman years back to try to get Lake Elmo to lift its restrictions.
The Lake Elmo City Council on Feb. 18 approved regulations enabling residents with at least half an acre to raise chickens, and those with at least three-quarters of an acre to tend to bees.
Since her chickens died, Fleischman said she’s glad to hear she can now get more feathered friends on her current lot that’s less than an acre.
“You can have chickens in Minneapolis and St. Paul,” she said. “Lake Elmo called itself a rural community, but yet they forbade chickens. It makes me happy that we now live up to our rural nature.”
Effective Feb. 26, up to four chickens are allowed on lots as small as half an acre, increasing by two chickens every additional half acre.
The council also decided to allow up to four bee colonies on lots as small as three-quarters of an acre. Six colonies are permitted on at least two and a half acres.
Residents must apply -- and pay $25 -- for a permit, which is good for up to two years, and follow various stipulations listed in the new code.
“This is going to be a large change for Lake Elmo,” city clerk Adam Bell said at the Feb. 18 council meeting. “We are going from 10 acres down to half an acre.”
The change gives many more homeowners the opportunity to set up hives or coops in their backyards, as only horses were previously allowed on lots smaller than 10 acres. City code’s new animal chapter, which regulates the type and amount of animals allowed on properties, also now permits other livestock on land five acres or larger.
‘The chicken mayor’
Many Lake Elmo residents have been asking to produce their own chicken, eggs and honey.
City employees say they’ve received a number of requests and inquiries about chickens and bees. Constituents told Mayor Mike Pearson they wanted the critters when he door-knocked during the 2012 election season.
“Given our rural nature, it seems a reasonable request and a perfect use,” Pearson said. “We just want people to be able to use their property as they see fit, as long as it doesn’t bother their neighbors.”
Pearson commended city staff and the planning commission for their hard work on preparing the zoning code change.
Staff modeled Lake Elmo’s new rules off of those in Stillwater and Cottage Grove, following the popularity of chicken- and bee-raising that’s cropped up in metro area cities in recent years.
“Many cities make exceptions for the keeping of those animals just because they are small,” Bell said at the council meeting. “There’s a growing trend on keeping these animals in your backyard.”
Opportunities for food, education
Ann DeLaVergne, the director of Our Community Food Projects who helps run the Cimarron Youth Garden in Lake Elmo, has a lot of experience growing her own food, and encouraging and educating others to do the same.
When she heard about the council’s recent action, she started rattling off ideas for how the kids she works with could learn from raising or selling the products of chickens and bees.
She’s raised chickens, and introduced them to a boy, who ended up getting his own chickens and selling eggs. She also has a friend in Minneapolis who gives her chickens’ eggs to nearby residents.
DeLaVergne looked after bees for 16 years and said honey makes good gifts. She said the top of the shelter at the Cimarron Youth Garden, which sits on nearly five acres of private land, would be a perfect spot for a hive or two.
“Honey is one of those things that everyone knows and uses once they have it,” she said.
Some people may be apprehensive about living near bee hives, she said, but education should help dissolve concerns. For example, honeybees aren’t aggressive, and they play an important role in pollinating garden plants.
And the bees and poultry would add more than just buzzing and clucking in the community, DeLaVergne says. They could spur economic development, allow people to raise their own food and spread the word about the benefits of locally grown food products.
“Small businesses can evolve out of this,” DeLaVergne said. “All that can happen when people have chickens and bees.”