A few years ago, Meghan DeGroot watched the documentary Food Inc. about the corporate food system in the country, which encouraged her to eat more organic food. She started growing her own vegetables and four years ago, she even decided to keep her own chickens to lay eggs.
DeGroot, who lives in an unincorporated residential area near Belleville, eventually added two ducks and two mini-goats to join her three chickens in her backyard.
But in May, the county’s zoning department received a complaint about DeGroot’s animals and issued her a violation notice, as only household animals, such as dogs and cats, are allowed in unincorporated single-family residential areas of the county.
“If we receive a complaint, we go and check,” said zoning department director Anne Markezich.
After learning that having the chickens, mini-goats and ducks was against county code, DeGroot decided to seek a change in the county rules.
“You have to ask,” DeGroot said. “In America, you don’t just let somebody come to your door and say ‘you’ve got do to this, and that’s it.’ That’s not what we’re about.”
The St. Clair County Zoning Board of Appeals is scheduled on Monday to discuss DeGroot’s proposed zoning code amendment that would allow non-household domesticated animals in residential areas in the unincorporated parts of the county.
In addition to her animals, DeGroot has a garden in her backyard and grows peppers, squash, tomatoes, green beans, herbs, strawberries, peaches, pears, raspberries and blueberries.
“A lot of people are doing this across the country to promote self-sufficiency, sustainability,” DeGroot said.
DeGroot started raising hens four years ago in order to have the egg a day they produce. She eventually added ducks, and now has two mini goats to possibly get milk.
“For me these are my pets, but they just have a bigger purpose than keeping me company,” DeGroot said.
Being protected from salmonella bacteria in eggs, and concerns about commercial raising of chickens, are DeGroot’s main motivation, she said.
“Health and safety is important to me, and the piece of mind I get from raising my own chickens is rewarding,” DeGroot wrote to the county zoning office. “It also has helped to teach my son about raising animals and where our food comes from.”
Even though DeGroot’s proposal would allow any domesticated farm animal such as fowl, bovine, and equine in single-family residential areas, Markezich said the zoning board could narrow the scope during the hearing.
She added, she’s not sure how the zoning board will react to the proposal.
DeGroot says she wants to alleviate fears people might have of allowing these types of animals in residential areas.
She said chickens, if their coop is properly cared for, don’t smell and produce great fertilizer.
“It doesn’t smell if you take care of it properly,” DeGroot said.
Her mini goats are expected to grow to no heavier than 45 pounds, and are quieter than her dog.
Her backyard includes fences creating different areas for each of her animal groups and wooden shelters.
“If you want to produce some of your own food in the backyard, why shouldn’t you be able to do that?” DeGroot said. “Why should my county or city tell me you have to go to Walmart to buy that or you have to go to the grocery store and buy that? If I want to be able to do a little of that in my backyard, and I’m not disrupting my neighbors, if I’m keeping my property clean, which I am, and I’m being responsible with my animal care, which I am, then why shouldn’t I be able to do that?”
This is not the first time there has been a local push to allow residential chickens.
A proposal to allow backyard chickens in Swansea was struck down in 2012.
Belleville considered a proposal to allow backyard chickens in 2014. Aldermen discussed the idea over the course of several Public Health and Housing Committee meetings. However in March of this year, the committee voted to deny allowing chickens in town.
According to Belleville meeting minutes, a group supporting chickens being allowed intended to bring a petition with at least 500 signatures, but nothing further had been presented to the committee.
Those in support of allowing chickens said people already have dogs, which produce more waste, in town, and chickens can be educational for children.
However, opponents brought up odor concerns, health concerns and the extra burden on the city enforcing chicken regulations.
In Fairview Heights people are allowed to have chickens, as part of a resident’s three-animal limit, said Timothy Tolliver, the city’s Land Use and Development director.
“As long as it’s not a rooster crowing, we don’t have a problem,” Tolliver said.
Keeping of residential hens is allowed in St. Louis. St. Louis, however requires that lots with chickens be at least 7,500 square feet and in single-family residential areas. The city’s animal control department also set rules for maintenance of chicken coops to ensure they are kept clean and sanitary.
What: St. Clair County Zoning Board of Appeals
When: 7 p.m. Monday
Where: 10 Public Square, Meeting Room B-564, in Belleville.