Old Timers, that is, those residents who have lived in Moraga more than 20 years or so, fondly remember times when local kids rode their horses to school, cattle roamed the hills, and uninterrupted ranch lands were for wandering.
Progress, and the press of new arrivals hungering for a taste of that lifestyle, have increasingly driven it away – with batting cages replacing chicken coops, and sports courts replacing grazing land formerly used to graze the family goat or cow.
Those who liked their eggs fresh and didn’t mind the company of goats were pressured over the years to quiet their roosters and disperse their herds as prickly neighbors from Big Cities unfamiliar with the sounds and smell of a barnyard began to complain, eventually getting the ear of civic leaders and ensuring the sounds of The City won out over those of a semi-rural farm.
That’s when Moragans, many of them captains of industry, doctors, and even law-abiding lawyers started going underground, flaunting town restrictions on the keeping of livestock and secretly building clandestine chicken coops and goat pens.
Living the semi-rural dream in Moraga in 2015 has not always easy for the suburban farmers who found themselves trying to come up with innovative ways to shield their animals from the prying eyes of neighbors and the intermittent town inspector.
“We’re lucky, we have a little buffer of land around us,” said one local recently, her husband wading through a contented herd of grazing short-legged goats to access their backyard chicken coop. “If the neighbors know, they haven’t said a word.”
But other neighbors have complained in other instances, however, and the town has stepped in on occasion and ordered backyard farmers to give up their flocks. Current winds seemed weighted against the livestock fanciers – until Lafayette adopted new guidelines for the keeping of farm animals within its city limits last year.
“Several of us here gave a silent hurray,” said our closeted farmer, who declined our request to describe her backyard layout in this story for fear of being cited by the town. “It just makes so much sense…”
Moraga has drafted updated guidelines for the keeping of small farm animals and has calendared the topic for review and discussion later this month. Patterned after Lafayette’s ordinance, Moraga’s proposal would allow the keeping of chickens, pigeons and rabbits in single-family homes without a permit. People living in duplexes and triplexes could also keep animals with prior approval from the town. Apartment residents would not be allowed to sample the semi-rural farming experience due to density.
Like Lafayette, Moraga is expected to continue its ban on noisemaking birds like roosters and peacocks should the newly proposed guidelines pass muster. Animal fanciers we spoke with shrugged at that, pointing out that there are far noisier implements in use on a daily basis in Lamorinda – which their owners operate with apparent impunity.
“It’s a choice you make in your lifestyle,” offered another Moragan, who along with his chickens keeps bee hives on his property. “You buy your eggs at the store, I get mine from the coop in my yard. For me it just makes more sense.”
If Moraga adopts a new approach to backyard farming, several of the undercover “semi-ruralists” we spoke with promised a return visit for (more) eggs and honey and pictures of their herds and flocks.
“It will be good to come out of hiding,” one said.