"Hey girls!" Tish Hoehl said as she greeted her chickens of Coop de Ville located in the backyard of her Palo Alto house. Hoehl has had chickens for close to 20 years, and this particular coop for five years. In addition, she has grown different herbs, citrus trees and native California plants in her backyard for 15 years.
She is one of the 38 coop owners who will be hosting visitors during this year's Tour de Coop, an annual event intended to showcase local coops and promote sustainability and neighborhood sharing, according to event founder Scott Vanderlip. It was started in 2012 and has grown from 11 to 38 coops. This year, it is also sponsored by Slow Food South Bay.
In addition to coops, the event also promotes urban farming, beekeeping and composting.
Vanderlip noted that this year he and other volunteer organizers wanted to make the event as inclusive as possible by making adjustments including a Spanish translation for event information.
"We really want to encourage everybody in the community to participate," he said.
Along with different coop routes, a vendor will be selling ready-made coops at Common Ground Garden, 687 Arastradero Road, Palo Alto.
"My goal (is) hopefully we'll have coop tours that inspire people," Vanderlip said.
Individuals who register online for the self-guided tour will receive the maps for each route, which are typically 5 to 6 miles long, about three days before the tour.
"We're trying to make the routes bicycle friendly," Vanderlip said.
Before the event, visitors can check the event's website to view individual coops and choose which loops interest them the most. This year, the tour extends from San Mateo to San Jose and includes six coops located in Palo Alto, such as Hoehl's Coop de Ville.
In her backyard, Hoehl's large, predator-proof coop provides shelter to her eight chickens. Three of them, named Faith, Hope and Charity, are only 8 weeks old, and they are separated from the others because of their young age. The older ones are the 3-year-old Betty, 2-year-olds Donna and Martha, and 20-week-olds Sadie and Sally.
"They've all got their own personalities," Hoehl said. "Betty is definitely the leader of the group. She rules the roost. You can see how the (other two) run from Betty; she still kind of intimidates them a little bit."
Each chicken is a different breed, including Plymouth Rock, Golden Campine, Welsummer and Easter Egger, Hoehl said.
"I've gotten the different kinds of breeds mostly because they'll lay different colored eggs," she said. "That way I can kind of keep track on who is laying or who is not picking up the slack."
Each lays five eggs a week, Hoehl said. Because she and her husband don't eat that many eggs, they share the extras with their friends and neighbors, along with the fruits they collect from the garden.
"You can definitely tell a fresh egg," she said. "My sister ... loves eggs; she's always been raving about the taste."
Hoehl explained that her neighbors have been supportive of her coop, helping her collect the eggs when she is away and bringing their kids over to watch the chickens run around.
"All the young kids who walk by with their families ... they just all love to look at the girls and everything, so it's been a fun thing," she said.
The coop has an automatic door with a timer, which lets out the girls in the morning and closes in the evening.
"They've gotten used to it because in the morning now, like at 6:15, they'll be lined up here, waiting for the door to open," Hoehl said.
She said that the chickens are independent and do not require daily tending because of the coop's automatic feeder, waterer and door opener. Yet, she still enjoys coming out most mornings and throwing the chickens some corn.
Conserving water and composting are two essential practices Hoehl likes to employ in her backyard. She has a compost pile near the coop where she regularly puts the chicken poop and food waste. Every six months, she takes the pile out and uses the compost in her vegetable garden. Her plants, including tomatoes, zucchinis, strawberries, oregano, rosemary, kiwi fruit and citrus trees, are all watered using drip irrigation.
Hoehl is looking forward to welcoming visitors to her backyard during this year's Tour de Coop.
"I think it'll be fun," she said. "I like to show off the girls."
What: Tour de Coop 2015
When: Saturday, Sept. 19, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: The tour spans from San Mateo to San Jose, with six coops in Palo Alto.
Cost: Free admission.
Info: 2015 Tour de Coop