Urban coop tours come from the same impulse as the movement toward interests in locally grown organic food, namely the desire to eat delicious, seasonal food that is as fresh as possible. Eggs, of course, are freshest when they come from a backyard chicken coop. When gardeners began to consider adding a chicken coop to their gardening efforts, the first question they usually asked was, how do I get started? They asked questions and reached out to people who already had backyard coops and then some asked, how do we share this information with more people? And so, the idea of a local chicken coop tour was born. The first coop tours in the U.S. were few and far between. The first U.S. tours started around 2002. In 2009, when the first Funky Chicken Coop Tour® was organized, one could still count on two hands, with some digits left over, all the coop tours in the U.S. The number of tours has since increased from 2002 to 2011 by nearly 500%!
Michelle Hernandez, the founder of the Austin Poultry Meet-Up, the world’s second largest poultry meet-up group, and Director of The Funky Chicken Coop Tour®, shares how the Austin tour started: “I started raising chickens and guineas in 2009 and started taking part in an online chicken forum. Another woman on the forum and I started posting similar posts. I figured we probably started raising chickens about the same time. Someone else on the forum posted something to the effect of, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if Austin had a Coop Tour like they do in Oregon?’
There was a lot of enthusiasm about the idea, but no one took steps to putting it together.” Hernandez continues, “I was so excited about raising chickens and about seeing someone else who was new to raising chickens that, in a very uncharacteristic move for me, I emailed the woman and asked her if she wanted to meet for lunch. Her name was Tracy Downing. We met and started talking more about a possible Austin Coop Tour. I posted an announcement on the forum to call for a planning/brainstorming meeting about organizing a coop tour. A lot of people said they’d be there, but in the end, four of us showed up: Tracy Downing, Carla Allen, Judith Haller, and myself. That was the start of the 2009 Austin Funky Chicken Coop Tour.”
In 2009 The Funky Chicken Coop Tour® was born. It hosted 1,000 visitors and featured 18 coops. In that first year, the focus was on displaying coops and developing an online presence using a Blogspot page for the official website. Twitter was used for marketing and tour photos were posted through Picasa. Maps were available for download on the website as a Google map link. Tour hosts printed their own signs and had no idea how many people to expect.
Michelle’s coop was, of course, on that first year’s Tour. She reflects: “The first year (2009), we didn’t limit coops to the Austin’s City Limits, and my coop was on it. I wondered, as I think we all did, if anyone would show up. I had my gardening tools out and was planning to have a lazy day in the garden and maybe get a few people. The Tour started at 10am. The first car drove up at 9:45am and people didn’t stop coming until 4pm. We had about 80 to 85 people come by. Even with that low number, it was hard to take a break because people just kept coming and there was just the two of us. One group of visitors saw my coop and built their own ‘co-op coop’ (shared between adjacent neighbors) that ended up being part of our 2010 and 2011 tours.”
In 2010, the The Funky Chicken Coop Tour® included 17 coops. It was host to 1,500 visitors. In this second year of the Tour, t-shirts were added, an information center, and a coop raffle. Online outreach was expanded to include social media outlet Facebook, as well as pre-tour video previews on a new Tour YouTube Channel. A downloadable PDF map was also made available online on the Blogspot page. Also in that second year, a partnership was established for the first time with The Sustainable Food Center (SFC), a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on cultivating “a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food.”
The third year of the Tour continued to grow with more visitors and a larger local business presence. In 2011, commemorative posters were introduced as well as more formal sponsorship options. The partnership with the SFC continued along with other added fundraising efforts with all proceeds, after expenses, going to the SFC. That year the Tour raised $1,500.00 for the SFC.
As the Tour gains momentum, a transition from partnering with SFC to being its own non-profit for backyard poultry has transpired. In the Fall of 2011, the Urban Poultry Association of Texas, Inc. was formed to provide support, training and guidance in an effort to promote urban poultry and help those who strive to work with poultry in an urban setting. All future Funky Chicken Coop Tours will operate under this umbrella.
While those involved with organizing The Funky Chicken Coop Tour® are overjoyed by the increasing turnout with each passing year, its main objective remains to educate people on how to responsibly raise backyard poultry in an urban environment. The committee feels they have achieved their mission and look forward to continuing to do so in years to come. Strong support for the event from the local community continues to be of utmost importance and is highly appreciated along with broader sponsorship support that continues to grow each year.