In 1864, when Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman conducted his famous March to the Sea, splitting George apart like a ripe peach, his troops lived totally off the bounty of the land.


Sherman’s Union army, marching without supplies, did not want for anything, while up north the Army of Virginia was experiencing disease and starvation as Gen. Robert E. Lee fought the Confederacy’s last desperate battles.

Georgia’s ability to produce a bounty has not been in question since those Civil War days.  Now some Georgia lawmakers believe the state’s local zoning laws are hampering food production, and they’ve introduced a “Right to Grow” bill to change that.

Led by Powder Springs Republican Earl Ehrhart, who represents Cobb County in Georgia’s General Assembly, the lawmakers want to lift the requirement that homeowners have at least two acres before they can raise livestock.

Ehrhart says people should be free to raise chickens and grow backyard crops on their property. He says the Right to Grow bill represents a basic freedom, recalling those days when Georgians all grew their own food.

The Georgia Right to Grow is aimed at crops and livestock grown by homeowners for their own consumption. Nothing they produce could be for commercial use.

Local code enforcement could still address property if it became so dirty that it might be a public nuisance. Both local governments and private citizens could still bring nuisance actions under the proposed law.

While a similar bill introduced last session went nowhere, events have pushed Right to Grow to the forefront, including citations issued recently to Leigh and Danny Savage of Power Springs for raising 15 chickens in their backyard.

The couple said their chickens were not bothering anyone, but they were still visited by a code enforcement officer. They have until Feb. 10 to move their birds.

The Right to Grow measure is House Bill 853 in the Georgia Assembly.  Others in the bipartisan group of sponsors include Rep. Tom McCall, R-Elberton, Rep. Terry “Pete” England, R-Winder, Rep. Jay Roberts, R-Ocilla, and Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale.

As drafted, the Georgia Right to Grow Act defines “crops” as fruits and the products of all annual or perennial plants, trees or shrubs.

The bill goes on to say “no county, municipality, consolidated government or local government authority shall prohibit or require any permit for the growing or raising of food crops or chickens or rabbits in home gardens, crops or pens on private residential property so long as such food crops or animals or the products thereof are eased for human consumption by the occupant of such property and members of his or her household and not for commercial purposes.”

No mention is made in the bill of any exemptions from existing licensing and inspection laws, but those may not be required because food grown on the property can only be consumed by the individual household and cannot be sold commercially.

Georgia’s cities, however, are mounting vigorous opposition to the Right to Grow bill.  The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) “is opposed to this bill as we believe these types of decisions are best made at the local level, instead of a ‘one type fits all’ piece of legislation,” GMA spokeswoman Amy Henderson told Food Safety News.

Last year, Georgia cities managed to keep an earlier version of the Right to Grow bill from advancing beyond the second reading calendar in the Assembly.

  • William T. S.

    Keep Georgia rustic. The barnyard smells. The flies. The noises. The red mud puddled with brown muck. We must not constrain that charming cracker character that brings Yankee tourists flocking like our barnyard fowl. Gomer Pyle would be so proud!

  • John Coryat

    Sure, this bill sounds good, sound being the emphasis here. I can just imagine what it would be like to live in a tight 1/4 acre lot neighborhood and some “home grow” person’s rooster is crowing at the top of his roof every morning at sunup.
    People should be allowed to grow plants but livestock of any kind, has to be regulated and zoned for it specifically.

  • Ella

    If you want farm animals move to a farm.

  • Joseph Pond

    John, that is what noise ordinances are for. Should we ban dogs as well because they bark thru the night? It is just wrong to ban everything because one thing could go wrong. The city of Atlanta allows 25 chickens and two goats. They seem to be doing all right.

  • Oh that’s silly. There’s noise and nuisance laws to cover cases of roosters crowing like crazy. Most people wanting to keep chickens for eggs only want a few quiet hens.

  • Shawn L

    You guys need to actually read the bill. Roosters on a 1/4 acre would piss off most anyone. Per this bill, this would most certainly be considered a nuisance and subject to local ordinances and enforcement.
    Please keep in mind that 99% of the people that want chickens and can not have them ONLY WANT HENS. Hens are quiet. A handful or two of hens make very very little noise. Additionally, In case you did not know, a roosters only purpose is to fertilize a hens infertile eggs so you can get baby chickens. We don’t eat baby chickens in America so there is no need for a rooster.
    I challenge you to educate yourself on this bill and what it supports and what it does not. Making assumptions based on your ignorance is part of the growing problem our nation is experiencing.

  • Cyndy C.

    I live in Georgia and believe me, I would take a rooster crowing anyday to some people who have these damn ATV’s and souped up vehicles that they have to run up and down the street at all hours of the day and night! And, oh yeah, the parties that go on until the wee hours of the morning. Or the screaming kids who run amuck and their parents just don’t care. Talk about noise! Give me that rooster anyday, at least it makes a nice alarm clock!

  • Kathrine

    The GMA is wrong in this situation. Georgia residents need to know their right to grow food is consistent where ever they live in this fair state. Because counties may contain multiple municipalities and even restrictive home owners associations, citizens need to know they can grow tomatoes, or even hang their laundry out to dry, whether they live in Atlanta or any of its thousand burbs, as well as the smaller metro areas no one seems to remember.
    Home gardens and pet hens are far less damaging to property values than an untended dog left to dig and howl on a quarter acre lot. It’s educational, instills pride and a sense of self-sufficiency, reduces poverty, promotes, health, and will improve communities and create jobs. Agricultural awareness and public support for it will grow when city residents have walked a mile in a farmer’s shoes.
    Preservation of our farmland will follow when city residents learn that food and farming are essential to our national security as opposed to turning farms into housing developments.
    GMA should support the people who live our communities as opposed to looking after the power structure represented by the municipalities we live in.

  • Virgie Lee

    Its the flies I like best. Nothing keeps moochers from bumming meals at my house quite like flies from the next door backyard barnyard swarming over the food. Me and the kids must be getting immune because we don’t seem to get so sick any more. Don’t say nothing bad about ATVs either. My kids like to ride on the mud track they made in our front yard. That is the reason we can’t keep goats or chickens alive ourselves.

  • J, Quirine Ledbetter

    It’s so much more than peaches. Why, it wouldn’t be Georgia without cicadas humming, guns firing, roosters crowing, flies swarming, dogs barking, chain saws whining, heat waves rippling, animal smells wafting, drunks fighting, pigs oinking, jalopies backfiring, kids screaming, perspiration saturating, boys cursing, unemployed men perching, chicken deep frying. Georgia is true to its roots. If you want sophistication go to Alabama…or Mississippi.

  • Judy Gex

    Virgie Lee, you obviously do not know very much about chickens. Like the fact that they eat flies and fly larvae. I do live on a farm and I have almost 100 chickens and roosters… and far less flies than before we got them.

  • For those of you who like flies, you definitely don’t want chickens. My chickens love eating the flies around our garden and the compost pile from the horses we have. Perhaps you should do a little bit of research before you make up your mind on this issue. 🙂

  • Jody Di

    FACT: a dogs bark is the same decibel as a roosters crow.
    FACT: 6 hens poop = 1 med dog poop
    FACT: Chicken poop is compostable and nutritious to the soil.
    FACT: Dog poop is hazardous waste
    FACT: Each hen can biorecycle 7 lbs of food residuals per month, times that by 3 hens per household times 2000 homes =252 tons of food waste diverted from landfills each year
    FACT: Based on fact above, some cities have giving each home 3 hens, as an economic solution to the costly problem of trash!
    FACT: Home grown eggs are more fresh & nutritious, highest source of protein
    FACT: Chickens are great garden helpers, cleaner uppers, insecticiders, herbiciders, fuel free tillers
    FACT: Chickens are great companions, and entertainers

  • gtree

    A few hens in the backyard do not smell and certainly are not noisey. I just love how people who know nothing about chickens have such strong opinions against them and not a shred of evidence to back up their claims. It is my property that I pay for and I have a right to use it how I like without interferring with my neighbors. If you don’t like the sight of my garden or my chickens in MY backyard then too bad for you – it is my right to feed my family and you have not right to say anything to me. Many of us can’t afford a “farm” so we do the best with the little amount of land that we have including being able to grow a a small garden have some fresh eggs. Just like you have no right to tell me I can’t have a dog in my yard (even if you don’t like dogs), you have no right to tell me I can’t have a chicken that doesn’t bother anyone. Open your minds and learn something.

  • I’m Amused

    These comments are amusing to me, especially the ones about the barnyard smelling, rooster crowing, brown muck, flies, guns firing, drunks fighting, chicken deep frying, and redneck sophistication! I guess the urban areas (yes, even Atlanta!) have a much better quality of life with all the graffiti, piss-smelling subways, homeless panhandling derelicts, overpriced studio apartments, murder, rape, urban blight, and horrid educational systems. But, oh my… we’re just a bunch of backwards rednecks here in Georgia for wanting to have some farm animals and a garden in our yards. I’d take the loudest, nastiest rooster or goat over most of the degenerates I see on urban subway systems (or even the high-strung, type A personality, road-raged, wife-beating, alcoholic, irate banker driving the $100,000 Mercedes). We truly are an ignorant bunch.