Nfld. & Labrador

The coop is down, the chickens rehoused, but Witless Bay couple fights on

A new non-profit homesteading association in the province can help other people in the same position, Gideon Barker said.

They plan to reapply for a chicken coop, and take the fight even higher if needed

With the help of friends, Gideon Barker complied with an order from the town council to remove his and his partner's backyard chicken coop. (Submitted by Gideon Barker)

Their chicken coop is down — for now — but Gideon Barker says his family isn't done working to put it back up, and now they have a new non-profit homesteading association to help them.

Barker and his partner Jaclyn Humphries complied with an order from the Witless Bay Town Council, which said they lacked the proper permits for the four foot by four foot coop when it was constructed.

But Barker plans to continue fighting for the coop — which housed three chickens named Lentil, Bean and McNugget, who are now being cared for elsewhere in town.

There is so much standing in the way from people just trying to live their own life and try to grow some of their own food.- Gideon Barker

"We are planning on reapplying to put the coop up and that is going to be the long battle here because it's not over right now," he said, adding that the couple followed the town's removal order, which they had unsuccessfully appealed to the Eastern Newfoundland Regional Appeals Board, because they began the process with no intention of breaking the rules.

And with the help of the Homesteading Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, a new non-profit association incorporated at the end of last month, Barker said experiences like his might lead to improvements for homesteaders across the province.

Gideon Barker and Jaclyn Humphries were compelled to move to Witless Bay for a rural lifestyle in a town that they believed embraced homesteading. (Submitted by Gideon Barker)

"This is going to be a movement to hopefully actually enact some real change and have that happen on a provincial level, so we can get a top-down approach to things so we don't have small municipalities with special interests and with their own personal gains that are getting in the way of people just trying to live a peaceful life," he said.

The full fowl story

Barker and Humphries initially applied in June 2017 to build the coop, but at that time the town council wasn't sitting due to the resignation of the mayor and a lack of council members, among other issues.

Three months later, having moved out of their previous home and with winter approaching, they moved the coop to their current residence without having their permit application dealt with.

The town received complaints and denied their permit, and an appeal of that decision was also denied because they did not have a proper permit when the coop was constructed.

With the coop taken down, its three chicken residents — Lentil, Bean and McNugget — are safe and being cared for elsewhere in Witless Bay, Gideon Barker says. (Submitted by Gideon Barker )

In a statement provided to CBC News in November, the Witless Bay Town Council said that it stood by its decision, and that the coop was built without a permit and on an undersized lot.

At that time, Mayor Rene Estrada and Deputy Mayor Maureen Murphy did not respond to CBC's requests for an interview.

Taking down the coop

With the appeal lost, the coop had to come down, and Barker did that job over the weekend.

"It was a snow storm so I had three feet of snow that I had to dig out to get this thing down which is just ridiculous, that this town would make us take down a structure in the middle of winter," he said.

Lentil, Bean and McNugget lived in two properties in St. John's, including this one in the downtown area. St. John's allows residents to own three chickens. (Submitted by Gideon Barker)

The couple's next step is to reapply, he said, and they are working on getting that application together but not hopeful that it will be successful.

"The town has really gone out of their way to show that they do not want us to be doing what we're doing," he said.

"We feel like outsiders and we really feel ostracized and isolated over this whole situation."

Gideon Barker says he and his partner Jaclyn Humphries have received a lot of support, both local and widespread, throughout their fight to keep their coop. (Submitted by Gideon Barker )

At the same time, the couple has received a lot of support as well, not only from people in their local community and elsewhere in the province but from across the country and even as far away as Florida.

Barker said he hopes the new homesteading association can provide similar support to people with similar issues.

In the meantime, Barker said that if their re-application is denied by council, they will again appeal.

The couple has reached out to their local MHA, Keith Hutchings, and hopes that the provincial government's increased support for farming and food security in the province will help them get their coop put back up — with a permit in hand.

"It's really ridiculous that we can have apparently support from higher levels of government, and yet when you get down to a municipal level there is so much standing in the way from people just trying to live their own life and try to grow some of their own food," Barker said.

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