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Local Hungry Families Helped By Urban Farmer

Scott Terry, known for championing chickens and bees, now donates food to the Davis Street Family Resource Center pantry. The SF Chronicle profiled Terry in Wednesday's paper.

There are many things you can call Scott Terry, but one of them isn’t “chicken” – at least not when it comes to taking on the powers-that-be in San Leandro over what some describe as its archaic law against raising poultry and bees within city limits.

The 47-year-old financial planner and a cohort of about a half dozen other San Leandro hen lovers are part of an informal underground network of residents who admit they are running afoul of the law but are dedicated to seeing it changed.

Terry currently cares for three egg-laying hens and two hives of bees at his home in his Broadmoor neighborhood. He is doing so illegally, but not entirely hidden from city authorities. (Two city council members have actually been into his yard, he said, and seen his flock and hives up close and personal.)

His chickens have names. Cute names. He says they lay eggs, keep quiet and are kept clean. Those that don’t cooperate find themselves part of the dinner menu, as was the fate of the divine Miss Brown who Terry expertly slaughtered mustering all of his farm-boy courage.  

Even his bees are well behaved, he said, and his 80 year-old next door neighbor who has a serious bee allergy feels safe around them and supports him having his hives. He said people are overly worried about bees harming them and he goes out of his way to educate others about their importance in the eco-system.

Unabashed bee lover

“We need bees,” said Terry, “they are facing so many crises in our environment – everything from a mite parasite that wipes out hives, to colony collapse to pesticides. All of these things are all driving down the bee population.” Terry said he has had his hives for five years and has already lost four hives and is about to lose another one due to these environmental challenges.

Last fall the San Leandro Housing and Development Committee was asked to which Terry thinks was developed sometime in the 1970’s.  That committee, in turn, asked Terry’s chicken and bee defending cadre to provide copies of ordinances from surrounding communities which allow, or at least do not forbid them. 

Terry’s group hunted, pecked and scratched their way through piles of records until they gathered a good sampling of nearby area’s laws and presented them to the committee.

He said he expected the group would have heard back from the committee by now but he learned it was bogged down by pending redevelopment matters. He said his group will likely go back before the committee in January if it has not heard back from it by then. And yes, he said, his group will politely make another flap if they must.

You can read prior Patch coverage of the whole controversy .

Food donations

Today Terry has more than just the birds and bees on his mind.  Since January he has taken on another role, as urban farmer and benefactor of the poor.

His nearly quarter century as a successful financial planner put him in the enviable position of having both the time and money to pursue his dream of owning a hobby farm.

Vanity, however, has played no role in the acquisition and operation of his half acre of land in the unincoporated Alameda County’s Cherryland District . From the beginning owning the farm has been all about helping those in need, say those who know him. 

A few years ago Terry founded the Broadmoor Garden Exchange in San Leandro with neighbor Gayle Hudson and others. The group shares gardening expertise, swaps produce and grows food which it donates to the food pantry. It once donated nearly 300 pounds of lemons to the pantry and has been bringing food each Monday to the site.

Like many others, Hudson is a huge fan of Terry’s saying she is never surprised but always impressed by him. “He is amazingly community-oriented,” she said, “His sole goal in getting the land was to be able to grow food for people who need it. It is truly his passion.”

“The Farm” as Terry and his fellow gardeners are calling it is coming together quickly.  He has scores of fruit trees (including avocado, lemon, quince, apple, fig, cherry, nectarine plum and apple).   With a wide array of fruits and vegetables such as tomato plants, squash, pumpkins, corn, potatoes, melons, lettuce and green beans planted at the site he has had an ample assortment of produce to donate. He hopes to double his harvest next year.

Helping hands & 4-H Club

Members of the Broadmoor Garden Exchange help him plant and harvest The Farm in exchange for produce or just for the sheer pleasure of gleaning fruit from the trees or working the soil knowing the food will go to a good cause.

The Redwood 4-H Club, under the guidance of San Leandran Amy Chovnick, is also partnering with Terry to raise food to be donated to the Davis Street charity. (The group of 60 youngsters, age 5 to 18, are from San Leandro, Castro Valley, San Lorenzo and Hayward.) They have already been involved in one project with Terry and are about to embark on another.

In February the club members will start growing tomato seeds at their own homes and later planting them on Terry's Cherryland property. The 4-H club already has ties to Davis Street Family Resource Center because it annually helps sort toys and put together food baskets for them at holiday time.

Although the harvesting season is over for now Terry said he is planning to cultivate an even more extensive garden in the Spring. He has a tractor and he has traveled to Petaluma to purchase heirloom seeds. He also plans to raise (no surprise) chickens on the land. Chickens are allowed in that unincorporated area of Alameda County much to Terry’s relief.  He acknowledges, one chicken fight on his hands at a time is more than enough.

Terry said he comes by his love for farming from his grandparents who grew up poor during the Great Depression in Missouri and moved to California.  His grandfather ranched on rented land in Mendocino County and his grandmother taught him to preserve food.

Terry a transplant

Although he was born in California he later moved to Wyoming, Montana and Utah. He returned to the state and attended California State University, Chico , receiving a bachelor’s degree in finance in 1989.

Terry grew up around livestock of all sorts and he even worked for a while roping bulls. He also learned how to hunt deer, a practice he said gave him the fortitude to butcher Miss Brown. 

When he is not providing financial advice, farming or rustling up culinary delights with his home grown produce, Terry likes to paint watercolor landscapes and write.

His articles were published in the San Francisco Chronicle's Home and Garden section for a while and he is currently penning the story of his life, according to Hudson.

San Leandro's laws

As for his crusade to change San Leandro’s chicken and bee keeping laws, Terry said he hopes he and others in his corner of the coop, so to speak, will be able to counter the notion that chickens and bees don’t make good neighbors.

“We’re not asking everyone to keep chickens,” he said, “And, of course there need to be rules. There will have to be a limit on the number of chickens you can own, there must be a ban on owning roosters and you will have to keep your cages clean and your hens noise free.”

Terry said unfortunately all it takes is for one or two people to poorly care for their chickens to give all owners a bad name. He doesn’t think that is fair.  “If someone is not caring for their chickens and has too many of them, “he said, “then rules need to be enforced against them, but don’t ban everyone from having chickens altogether.”

“If every other community around either allows chickens and bees or at least doesn’t explicitly ban them,” he said, “I don’t understand why San Leandro should be any different.”

Terry’s remaining chickens, including a “rescue” chicken he adopted named Brownie (who is actually red) would likely agree. They do, after all, have a proud San Leandro chicken legacy to uphold.

Chicken Lane

Said Hudson, “Many years ago Dutton Avenue used to be called “Chicken Lane” This town was full of chickens. 

Terry and his group hope local leaders will take up their cause and defend the chickens too. Better eggs feeding hungry children in town, they say, than on the face of politicians.

(The San Francisco Chronicle profiled Scott Terry in its print edition on Wednesday. The story will appear online Thursday.)

Marga Lacabe December 21, 2011 at 06:24 PM
Rick, I'm really curious about what your objection is. Is the problem that the thought of a human killing an animal in your neighborhood makes you go "yuck!"? Would it make you feel better if you felt he was killing animals a few blocks away? How many blocks would make you feel best? And I'm also curious, how do you deal with all the racoons (and cats!) going around killing animals?
Antonio Cardenas December 21, 2011 at 10:20 PM
San Leandro used to be farm land, it is a rich heritage that can and should be used to feed the hungry. Farming is more than just getting your hands dirty, if it can help others, specially those in need, it is just the right thing to do. Chickens and bees? but of course! I am for it!

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