The Silicon Valley Tour De Coop
In late September my friend Sara and I explored Palo Alto as “tour-ists” in the third annual Silicon Valley Tour de Coop, which featured 29 chicken coops on over 230 miles of self-guided routes. From Palo Alto all the way down to San Jose, proud homeowners opened up their backyards and showed off coops to nearly 1,500 tour-ists on bikes or scooters, in cars and on foot.
Sara fastened the directions for our chosen tour route to her handlebars using a binder clip, and we set off. After 10 minutes of excited pedaling we pulled up to a house with heavily laden fruit trees and dozens of bicycles parked in the front yard. We made our way through to the backyard, our eyes drawn to a multi-story chicken coop, which was the centerpiece of a carefully assembled and highly functional food paradise.
Raspberries, squash, blueberries and kitchen vegetables surrounded us on all sides, supported by trellises. Chickens of all sorts were busily engaged in foraging activities. O’Malley Stoumen, the source of all this edible beauty, has been keeping chickens for the last 40 years. When a vegetable bed in the garden is done producing, O’Malley puts the chickens in the finished bed, and “they scratch and peck and eat every snail and slug and earwig and get some worms too.”
One of the most memorable stops was Betty’s coop, where we were tried our hands at picking up a feisty chicken that calmed down once was it was comfortably cuddled up in Sara’s arms. Betty helps reduce local food waste by sourcing food for her chickens from “an organic grocery store in Los Altos, picking up big boxes of any kind of greens, watermelons, day-old bread, anything that’s about to be tossed,” or the fruits and vegetables that a neighborhood food bank finds are past their prime.
As we watched, she placed the leafy vegetables in a cone-shaped hanging wire basket fastened to a coop with hose clamps. The chickens expertly eyed the greens, busily pecking lettuce from the open sides as we talked.
Julie and Scott Stanford and their two young children, Dahlia and Alexi, began their chicken keeping journey by participating in the Tour de Coop as tour-ists three years ago.
“We wanted to understand what was involved, and what kind of equipment you needed, and what people in this area were doing,” Scott told me, since coop requirements can vary by climate. Asked what they felt was the most important thing people need to know about chicken ownership, they both immediately replied, “definitely sturdy coop construction and design.”
A chicken coop must protect the chickens inside from predators, like raccoons and cats. After talking to experienced coopsters, the pair decided to build a tiki hut–style coop using reclaimed lumber from Whole House Building Supply, to match their tiki-inspired backyard patio, with lots of ventilation for optimal chicken health. They are excited about the fresh eggs for breakfast and believe that having chickens is a natural extension of shopping at the farmers market and eating locally.
The Silicon Valley Tour de Coop is a great way to learn more about keeping backyard chickens, connect with neighbors, get out and be physically active with friends and family and enjoy the beautiful fall weather. Check out the event at TourDeCoop.org, and sign up in advance to volunteer to test routes, host a coop stop or enjoy the ride as a tour-ist.