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Virginia government prosecutes homeowner with criminal charges for backyard chickens that produce organic eggs
(NaturalNews) An ongoing debate over the rights of homeowners to raise and keep their own chickens may soon gain an audience in the Virgina Supreme Court. Attorneys at the Rutherford Institute have filed a Petition for Appeal on behalf of Virginia Beach resident Tracy Gugal-Okroy, who faces criminal charges related to zoning ordinance violations for keeping chickens in her backyard. The organization, a nationally active group which is dedicated to upholding constitutional and property rights, is urging the court to protect local residents against what it referred to in a statement posted online as "onerous regulations that render otherwise law-abiding individuals as criminals simply for attempting to grow or raise their own food in a sustainable manner."
Gugal-Okroy's friendly flock has grown to 22 since 2011, when she purchased her first dozen baby chicks from a local farm. Each one is a family pet, she says, and her family has named them all. In addition to the enjoyment of their beloved companionship, Gugal-Okroy's family has come to reap additional benefits from looking after the chickens -- namely, the continual production of fresh, organic eggs, a steady supply of sustainable garden compost and fertilizer the chicken's manure provides, and even natural pest elimination as the chickens feed on mosquitoes and other bugs. The chickens are quiet and well-protected from predators, keeping either to their coop or fenced-in quarters. And all are there with blessings from Gugal-Okroy's neighbors, with whom she had consulted beforehand.
But her neighborly courtesy doesn't mean much to local officials in the City of Virginia Beach. A January 2012 notice from the city inspector alerted Gugal-Okroy that by keeping her chickens on her property, she may be in violation of a local zoning ordinance referring to "agricultural and horticultural uses" within residential districts, and excepting "poultry." Despite her subsequent appellate fight, which included multiple letters of support from neighbors, the City's Zoning Board of Appeals maintained that chickens were not allowed in the city. A later subsequent to the circuit court also ended poorly for Gugal-Okroy, when in an October 2012 ruling, the court upheld the zoning board's decision, finding that Gugal-Okroy had, in fact, violated the zoning ordinance. By that time, Gugal-Okroy had also received a summons charging her with violating the city's ordinance, which included a possible fine of up to $1,000.
Attorneys at the Rutherford Institute are now hoping they can help to shift momentum in Gugal-Okroy's favor. In their petition to the Virginia Supreme Court, they challenge the lower court's interpretation of the ordinance, arguing that restrictions pertaining to keeping fowl or "poultry" within the city do not apply to animals raised as companions and pets. Nonetheless, the case does carry potentially serious implications for individuals who prefer to raise their own wholesome food.
"Burdensome rules, regulations and inspection requirements -- many of which are indecipherable except to lawyers and bureaucrats -- now impede the ability of health-conscious individuals and small farmers to raise and produce their own food free of corporate contaminants," said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. "This case speaks to a growing problem in America today, namely, the over-criminalization and over-regulation of a process that once was at the heart of America's self-sufficiency - the ability to cultivate one's own food, locally and sustainably."