You might not guess it from the paved and manicured neighborhood streets in front of the houses, but their backyards are homes to hens, turkeys, quail and other birds or animals used for meat or eggs.
About 20 such homes will open to the public Saturday for the third annual Tour de Coops, a circuit of urban and suburban chicken coops in Phoenix.
It’s organized by Valley Permaculture Alliance, a nonprofit group that teaches and supports sustainable living practices.
“This year, we chose to concentrate our efforts in one locale,” says organizer Bryan White. “In previous years, we’ve been spread from Peoria to Gilbert.”
The coops are close enough that, for the first time, tour-goers can join a guided bicycle tour of the hen houses, which run the gamut.
“We have a young couple, renters in a historic district, who have a real minimal set up. Their landlady is allowing them to have a coop in the common backyard of a duplex. We’ve got a mom who runs a blog, 729sqft.com, who wants her kids to know where their food comes from,” says White.
Another coop, in the Arcadia neighborhood, has a chandelier inside.
“There’s a lot of variety and a lot of takes on how to do this. We have meat birds and chicks on the tour. We’ve got turkeys that actually made it through Thanksgiving. We’ve also got some goats on the tour, as urban as Seventh Street and Roosevelt,” White says.
Coop owners will share information on raising chickens, including measures to keep the birds safe and healthy during the Valley’s hottest months.
“We’re making sure people know if they’re going to do this, they really need to take care of the birds over the summer,” says White, who raises his own chickens — Plymouth barred rocks, silver cuckoo marans, Rhode Island reds and ameraucanas — in his Phoenix backyard.
The number of people attending the tour — and Valley Permaculture Alliance’s “Raising Chickens in Your Backyard” classes — has grown since Tour de Coops launched in 2009. About 60 coops across the Valley have been featured on the tour in that time.
White believes a slow economy has led to a “back to basics” mentality for a lot of people, and returning to traditional ways of producing food has been part of the shift.
“There are young families who believe it’s important to expose their children to animal husbandry and food production close to home. There’s a population of people who are cooks and foodies, and they’re interested in having food close to home,” he says.
Chickens can be a fairly easy and affordable way to join the movement. Thanks to their pest control and fertilizer-production capabilities, the birds go hand-in-hand with backyard vegetable gardens — another back-to-basics trend.
“I joke around that chickens are kind of like an entry drug into sustainability. They’re interesting. They’re interactive. They have individual personalities. There’s just something about chickens and humans that works together. There are several people I can think of who have gone on the tour one year and have (their own) chickens the next. Chickens are seductive, and people can’t help but be intrigued,” says White.