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Poultry enthusiasts can visit backyard coops during tour

| Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A few years ago, Josh Knauer probably would have been the last person you'd expect to be buddy-buddy with a group of chickens.

"I was raised in New Jersey and knew nothing about them growing up. In fact, I considered them kind of scary at some point," Knauer says with a chuckle. "I always kinda thought they were a little weird."

Still, he wanted to find a novel way to teach his young children -- Olivia, 9, and Adam, 6 -- responsibility through the care of animals.

It would take hours of Google searches and urging from co-workers before he'd become comfortable enough to buy his first three birds. And today, he's an advocate of urban farming rights.

His Squirrel Hill home will be a stop on Sunday on what promises to be the first of many so-called Chicks-in-the-Hood Urban Chicken Coop Tours in Pittsburgh. The event is a self-guided tour of the dozen-or-so backyard coops that have mushroomed from the North Side to Highland Park in recent years.

A bicycle tour, the Tour de Coop, also is planned.

The event's aim is twofold, organizer Jody Noble says -- to promote the merits of urban agriculture and to woo other would-be poultry enthusiasts.

Knauer, who heads a software company in the South Side, and his wife, Kathleen, have owned three golden comet chickens since April 2010, while caring for two dogs and an aquarium full of fish. It wasn't until one of his employees, an urban farmer in Greenfield, shared her experiences that Knauer eventually became sold on trying to raise chickens.

Their yard borders Frick Park and features a fenced-off chicken pen furnished with overhead netting to keep out foxes, hawks and other predators.

"They're living, breathing science lessons for our children," Knauer, 38, says. "This is more about their learning that there's a life cycle to everything."

Urban farming is not new in Pittsburgh. Historians say World War II-era Victory gardens were an expression of patriotism and a reaction to rationing of gasoline and food. The phenomenon appears to be gaining popularity, despite new restrictions placed on city farmers.

In January, Pittsburgh City Council passed the Urban Agriculture Zoning Code, which caps at three the maximum number of chickens that can be kept on land that spans a minimum 2,000 square feet. Beekeepers can have two hives on land that is at least 2,000 square feet and is a minimum of 10 feet from a neighboring property line.

Owners must apply for zoning variances with the city, which can cost about $300.

Across town on the North Side, Jana Thompson and her husband, Bruce, have kept two chickens behind their home in the Mexican War Streets for the past two years. The birds lay 10 to 12 eggs each week for the couple.

"They come in handy," says Jana Thompson, 44. "We've been raising them for eggs and (fertilizer) ... and haven't really been affected by the rising (food) prices."

Photo Galleries

Chickens on parade

Chickens on parade

The Knauer family coop will be a stop on the Chicks-in-the-Hood Urban Chicken Coop Tours in Pittsburgh.

Additional Information:

Chicks-in-the-Hood Urban Chicken Coop Tour

When: 9 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $5, free for age 12 and younger. Available the morning of the event through several businesses :

• The Quiet Storm, , at 5430 Penn Ave., Garfield

• Tazza D'Oro, , at 1125 N. Highland Ave., Highland Park;

• Crazy Mocha, , 2 E. North Ave., North Side

• 7665 Lock Way West, Pittsburgh, at the Highland Park Dam

Benefits: Proceeds are earmarked for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank's Urban Agriculture Programs, including The Farm Stand Project and the Plant-A-Row Project

Details: 412-441-4975 or e-mail

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