by Michelle Hernandez
The interest in raising backyard poultry continues to grow across our nation and the world.An estimate in a 2008 Newsweek article noted 65% of major cities allowed urban chickens, with a trend in cities overturning ordinances banning chickens. Backyardchickens.com, a popular online community for chicken supporters, exceeded 100,000 members in the summer of 2011, doubling its membership from the previous year. Across the ocean, one city in Belgium gave away chickens to households in an effort to reduce landfill waste. The examples of pro-chicken movements are abundant.
The first coop tours in the U.S. were few and far between. The first U.S. tours started around 2002.In 2009 when we started The Funky Chicken Coop Tour in Austin, Texas, you could still count on your two hands with some digits left over all the coop tours in the nation. The number of tours since 2002 to today has increased by nearly 500%!
In 2009 the Funky Chicken Coop Tour had around 1,000 visitors.In 2010 we grew to 1,500.The numbers for 2011 continued the increase in popularity, as the numbers climbed over 2,000! While we are pleased by the turnout, the main point is to educate people on how to responsibly raise backyard poultry in an urban environment. We feel we have achieved our mission and look forward to continue doing so in future years.
After the 2009 tour, I wrote an article on How to Start a Coop Tour in Your City. I am writing this article to provide additional insight from three years of experience as the Funky Chicken Coop Tour Event Organizer on ways to expand your tour as you get more experience.
1)I still agree with everything from the original article: Keep the tour simple, focused, and manageable, even as you expand.Get a feel for the audience, the commitment you have from your volunteers, and how much you can handle.The first year, we focused on displaying coops on the tour.The second year, we added t-shirts, an information center, and a coop raffle.The third year we added commemorative posters and more formal sponsorship options.We learn from each year and plan for the next as we go. There are plenty of great ideas to add over the years.
2)Be organized and professional.You want your supporters to have a good experience and association with your tour. The highest compliment is having people think it’s effortless to put on the event because everything went smoothly and people were friendly and helpful.
3)Consider having sponsors.After the first year, word got out about our tour, and sponsors came knocking on our (virtual) door.How great is that?Sponsors can help with costs of expanded features, such as yard and directional signs to the coop, banners, prizes, commemorative t-shirts, thank you gifts for Coop Hosts, and other items.In return, we offer sponsors various opportunities based on sponsorship levels, including advertising on our website, exposure through social media, a booth at our Coop Tour Day information center, and so on. Sponsors that have a good experience with our tour often say to “sign them up” for the next year’s before dates are even announced! We are so pleased to have strong support from our local community for the event, and we also appreciate the broader sponsor support that grows each year.
4)Plan a budget.As we have grown, we have added aspects to our tour that require more than trade in eggs (see above). Determine what the past tour expenses were, and project what the upcoming tour will cost.This will help you determine how you may want to collect those items, whether with financial, in-kind, or some mixture. It will also help you prioritize what aspects of the tour you may want to put on hold until you have more financial means, if needed.
5)Determine how your tour will deal with financial aspects. If you will be handling the collection of donations, monetary or otherwise, consider the financial implications and plan accordingly.Our tour partnered for two years with The Sustainable Food Center, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on cultivating “a healthy community by strengthening the local food system and improving access to nutritious, affordable food.” We love SFC and were so pleased they were willing to partner to assist us with financial and legal aspects of the tour. As the tour has gained momentum, we will be moving from a partnership to being our own non-profit for backyard poultry.Stay tuned for more details on our Tour’s website.
6)Set clear requirements and expectations in any tour related applications, including coop hosts, sponsors, volunteers, etc. The clearer you can make the requirements up front, the better for all involved.Consider adding short yes/no quizzes to insure people are clear on what they are being asked to do.Make sure people and/or companies understand that, completing an application does not automatically guarantee acceptance/approval for whatever the position may be.Upfront communication can save time and effort for all involved.
7)The less fun but necessary aspects: legal considerations. This probably doesn’t bring a warm fuzzy when you are talking about community, sustainability, and the like.However, proactive planning is the best deterrent from any potential issues.I recommend you seek legal advice in your area to determine what will work best.This article does not contain legal advice and only shares our experience. In our tour, we use hold harmless waivers for all people in any way involved with or visiting the tour.We also insure all Coop Hosts have homeowner’s insurance.
8)As you get more experienced, consider fundraising for a good cause.For instance, what about helping a school raise funds for a school coop?How about donating to 4-H or Future Farmers of America? Have you considered donating to a local organization that emphasizes sustainable practices? There are so many options out there.Our tour donated any proceeds past our expenses for 2011 to the Sustainable Food Center. There are so many great causes that there is no reason you cannot consider changing the focus based on the year or even asking for people to submit an application on why their cause should be considered for tour proceeds past expenses.
9)Determine a system to keep track of visitors.The main reason for this is to know how many people your tour potentially helped and to plan for the following year. We learned from our experience that keeping track could get tricky as visitor numbers significantly increase.We had volunteers at each site making stick marks on paper to keep track of the visitors, which generally worked well for the first couple of years. However, in 2011, as our visitor numbers kept growing, we had some coops report their official numbers but “knew there were more” but couldn’t keep up with the as one person keeping count and also helping in other aspects (we used official reports for our stats, as opposed to the estimates.) In relation to other tour expansion areas, the numbers may or may not be important compared to other coop tour aspects. We are revising our system for our fourth tour and will keep you posted on how it works.
10)Have fun and give yourself a pat on the back for your dedication as a backyard poultry ambassador. You are doing a wonderful job and the public will also thank you for your efforts.Share the cluckin’ good time with all!