By Adam Wheeler In a college town like Duluth, students can forget that they’re not the only ones living near campus. Between classes, friends, and extracurricular activities, students may miss the subtle things that surround the campus. Surprisingly, many people have missed a small chicken coop in the back yard of a house right across the street from the University of Minnesota Duluth.
The owner of the coop is a woman named Marian Syrjamaki-Kuchta, a UMD employee and alumni that works in the Darland Administration building. She describes herself as a “serious gardener.” Inside the coop are five hens.
“I’ve wanted them since I was a child,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said, “and finally one day I just said ‘I’m going to do this because I want to do it.'”
Her first attempt at chasing this childhood dream was four years ago when she kept her first batch of hens in a cage in her bathroom.
“I just wasn’t ready, I couldn’t handle it,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said.
She was forced to give the birds to a friend until she could find a better way to house them. Not long after having to part with her pets, she and a fellow gardener built a henhouse in her backyard on top of her garden entirely out of scraps.
She got her chickens back but it wasn’t long before she was faced with possibly having to give them up again.
According to Syrjamaki-Kuchta, an anonymous person filed a complaint with Animal Control.
“They couldn’t hear or smell them,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said, “they must have just known that it wasn’t legal.” At the time there was a city ordinance that didn’t allow people to have any sort of farm animal on their urban property.
She was shocked to find a warning from Animal Control on her front door one day.
“My heart was pounding,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said, “I thought ‘Oh my god, I broke the law.’” Syrjamaki-Kuchta and a few other chicken owners decided to work with city council representatives to get the ordinance changed.
Will Rhodes, another university employee, was one of these other chicken owners. “There was just too much gray area in the original ordinance,” Rhodes said. “We just wanted to eliminate that gray area.”
Syrjamaki-Kuchta went as far as making bumper stickers for her small group of petitioners. The stickers read, “Where ever chickens are outlawed, only outlaws will have chickens.” After several months of working with the city council, the ordinance was finally changed in August of 2009. Syrjamaki-Kuchta is now allowed to live in peace with her birds.
“They say watching them is therapeutic,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said, “You can either go to your psychiatrist or you can go to your chickens.”
She describes the hen’s cooing as “cute and calming.”
Syrjamaki-Kuchta said that people often try to persuade her into getting her own farm.
“They tell me I should go out to the country,” Syrjamaki-Kuchta said. “I’m going to do the country out here.”