Chicken debate reveals many layers of nostalgia

By on June 18, 2012

The story begs for puns and other word play. “The chickens can’t come home to roost;” “opposition to chickens was hard-boiled;” “the 2-2 vote shows how scrambled opinions were on the issue.”

But the final vote on backyard hens in Kill Devil Hills reflects deeper divisions facing the Outer Banks, especially as they relate to emerging trends.

One of my first impressions is the apparent contradiction expressed by many locals and visitors, often in our own commentary section.


There appears to be a groundswell of nostalgia supporters who remember the Outer Banks the “way it was,” circa 1960-1980. They decry the suburbanization, commercialization and over-development of the county.

Somehow I suspect that in the old Outer Banks, no one would have cared if someone had chickens in their backyard. Or whether a singlewide trailer was placed next to a residential home. Or if a business placed merchandise, an A-frame sign or even an off-site sign along the bypass.

And certainly, I doubt public employees roamed the streets on weekends looking for illegal yard sale signs and commercial banner violations.

So, do we really want the old Outer Banks, where zoning was non-existent and your property was, well, your property?

The reality is, chickens, like bright yellow buildings, beach chairs lined up along the bypass or fast-food joints offend many of the same people who claim our area has become another Myrtle Beach.

We long for the old days, but only when they comport with our idea of what the old days really mean. And most of us long ago accepted more and more zoning regulations that in the end, trump the property rights that formed a basis of our country.

Our reluctance to embrace these changes also sets our area against modern trends that are considered healthy, environmentally sound and economically viable.

Kitty Hawk did all it could do to keep an open-air market out of town.

Turn on any cable channel and you will see stories regaling the return of American- made products, local markets occupied by local artisans, and the value of foods produced at nearby farms that focus on natural methods rather than chemical manipulation of produce and livestock.

Yet Kitty Hawk’s council went to great lengths to make just such an outdoor market impossible, just a lot away from a Hooter’s the town had earlier approved. It eventually went belly-up.

It took Dare County three years to allow commercial fishermen to sell their harvest at local farmers markets, and even with the new regulations, a number of species allowed for sale in other states are still prohibited here.

Local livestock farmers who could easily supply beef and pork to willing buyers must hire on-site USDA inspectors at great cost and comply with dozens of regulations if they want to sell their product to consumers.

Meanwhile, the large processing plants favored by the USDA continue to spew out meats that seem to face recalls on a national basis three or four times a year.

And now it’s chickens. Not only are backyard eggs likely to be a healthier choice, many hobby hatcheries are bringing back what are known as “heritage” breeds of chickens. But a zoning exception to allow residents to keep up to six hens in Kill Devil Hills failed to earn a majority on the Board of Commissioners.

Many of these breeds are endangered. They produce eggs and meat superior to the inbred, genetically engineered poultry favored by commercial farms, while lacking the potentially harmful side-effects of chemically altered feed, antibiotic medicines and other practices favored by large-scale producers.

We might not be able to turn back the clock on The Home Depot or Wal-Mart. But it’s hard to argue buying fish at an open-air market caught that morning, picking up a wood carving from a local craftsman at an outdoor market,or consuming eggs from your own backyard isn’t a harkening to a simpler time.

A time exactly like the Outer Banks many claim has been destroyed.

Yes, I’ll take a few chickens living next door over a yard with three barking labs and enough manure production to make a hot summer day outside reminiscent of the hogs farms I grew up near in Virginia Beach.

So the question is, will our leaders join the 21st century and endorse practices that have been around for centuries, or will we continue to look for more Targets, Rite-Aids and shrimp from Indonesia to fuel our economy?

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