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Wadena girl's chicken dreams come true

Birds, bees and bunnies can now be part of your urban landscape in limited numbers.

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Lily Parker with her chicken Romer and the grand champion ribbons the pair took home in 2018. Submitted photo
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Over three years ago, fourth-grader Lily Parker approached the Wadena City Council with a request to keep chickens in the city limits.

At the time, she found it was a no-no.

But Lily planted a seed that day that has finally bloomed into something she believes will be a positive for the town. A recent ordinance change allows her and most other residents to now have up to six hen chickens in the city.

The now 13-year-old Lily recalls her desire to have chickens ever since she fell for a rescued Rhode Island red hen named Romer that she found one rainy day.

"I just had a love of chickens at that point, so I felt that I would like that, as a person, to be able to raise chickens at my house," Lily said.

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After discovering that the city did not allow any chickens, she poured into learning about them so she could show birds through her 4-H club, Leaf River Builders. She even earned grand champion in show and hobby showing the lovely Romer to adoring judges.

In her research that she presented to the city council she found the birds were beneficial as bug eaters and their regular clucks to each other are at a far quieter decibel level than the commonly accepted dog.

During the last few years, Lily has been handling chickens, showing them, washing them, everything but keeping them at home. She's been working with her friend, Charli Snyder, and her family to loan chickens from their farm. When word reached her that the ordinance was approved, she was flapping with excitement.

"I was so excited," she said.

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Lily Parker with her show chicken from the 2019 season. Submitted photo

Just days after the ordinance passed, plans are now underway to find a chicken coop. She hopes to fill it with six hens. Lily said the opportunity to have chickens opens up new worlds in urban agriculture.

"It's just going to be such a great learning opportunity for so many people," Lily said. "Like the only thing you can do is have a garden and that's not very exciting for some young people to just have to weed your garden, where as chickens you can go in the coop and like you can see them and picking the eggs out in the morning and night is such a good opportunity for you."

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Lily said her family plans to lease three show and hobby chickens so she and her siblings can show them at this year's county fair set for June 19-22.

Her father, Matthew, said the experience of bringing her request to the city back in 2017 was one that continues to stick with her.

"I'm happy that Lily has experienced the feeling of being the agent of change at such a young age," he said in an email. "She now has first-hand experience with how powerful her voice can be."

RELATED: Fourth-grader asks council for change in ordinance

How the ordinance got here

An amended ordinance in the city of Wadena now allows certain amounts of chickens, bees and rabbits to be kept within city limits.

Specifically, properties can now have up to six hens, one bee colony and two rabbits. No roosters.

The Wadena City Council came to this conclusion after a conversation that started back in September of 2017, when Lily stopped by to ask that an ordinance be amended to allow the chickens. The idea eventually came to the planning commission who dug through the options and presented their recommendation to the council. Part of the process involves public notice of the change, a public hearing, a first and a second reading then council approval. Council members brought considerable discussion to the table during the second reading on Tuesday, April 13.

Councilman Wade Miller said he did not have anything against chickens, but he wanted to include language that distanced them from neighboring homes. He had concerns about the ordinance not listing any proximity language. He suggested the chickens, which must be kept in an enclosed area, with a coop, should be kept 50 feet from any neighboring dwelling. He feared someone setting up a chicken coop right outside his home's exterior.

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"In the spring, when I open my windows, to air the house out, I don't care how clean it is, you're gonna smell chicken crap if it's right under your windows," Miller said.

He suggested if 12 chickens set up shop under his windows of his home, he'd invest in a fox.

Mayor George Deiss added that he was not comfortable with 12 chickens. He said that six chickens was a more reasonable number. The council agreed with the quantity and distance amendments, noting that these are changes that protect neighbors from proximity to the animals.

Councilman Jessie GIbbs asked what he would do if there was not room to keep the chickens 50 feet from a neighboring home. In that case, City Administrator Janette Bower said chickens could not be kept on that property.

Wadena Planning and Zoning director Dean Uselman noted that there have been beekeepers in the city before that were grandfathered in. There have been further inquiries about having bees and rabbits in residential areas. Uselman said there are people keeping chickens in the city limits already.

Deiss brought up the question of handling properties that do not cleanup after their animals. Uselman said that such behavior would land under the public nuisance category and could be dealt with through that channel.

The council also approved a second ordinance that allowed for larger farmer animals like horses and cows in A1 zoned districts. These are larger properties on the edges of the city. The animal numbers are limited based on acres.

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The highlighted areas in Wadena are slated to switch from R-1 residential zones to A-1 agriculture zones. Image courtesy City of Wadena

Lily Parker, a fourth-grade student at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary, made her case to the Wadena City Council Tuesday evening for a poultry operation within the city limits. Lily was backed up by her father, Matt. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal
Lily Parker, a fourth-grade student at Wadena-Deer Creek Elementary, made her case to the Wadena City Council Tuesday evening for a poultry operation within the city limits. Lily was backed up by her father, Matt. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

He's a writer, editor, photographer, truth seeker and promoter of the Wadena area.
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