BY BARBARA MORAN
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
April 15, 2015
It’s the most prestigious home show on Whidbey Island—that is, if you’re a chicken.
The Sixth Annual Chicken Coop Tour, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 18, will feature high-end amenities like indoor drinking water systems, luxurious easy-to-clean nest boxes and, of course, swank touches like a chandelier.
In addition to seeing decorated coops, disco balls, and twirling CDs (to deflect predators), visitors will also enjoy fine art featuring chickens and art glass that celebrates nature.
Whether visitors want to learn about keeping chickens or just enjoy a day amidst contented clucks of local egg producers, it’s a chance to experience Whidbey Island in a novel and charming way.
The idea for the annual self-guided tour was first hatched by the Rock’n Doodle 4-H Poultry Club, which uses proceeds to support 4-H programs, community education and barn improvements at the county fairgrounds. Tickets are $12 per car to admit all children and up to four adults; they’re available at Bayview Farm & Garden and Skagit Farmers Supply Country stores in Freeland and Oak Harbor.
The club is open to kids ages 5 to 18. The Cook brothers—Julian, 9, Adrian, 14, and Jameson, 17—are all members. Each won grand championships in Poultry Showmanship at the Island County Fair and they are experts on poultry nomenclature, diseases, breeds, science, maintenance, management and proper handling. “[Chickens] have lots of cool personalities,” explained Jameson, immediate past president. “Each is different, just like humans, and you can learn a lot” from their various characteristics.
Current club president Adrian agreed that in addition to being fun to have around, they provide an ongoing educational opportunity, which began for the boys when youngest brother Julian got chickens for his fifth birthday. Their mom, Julia Cook, said club members help advocate for preservation and renewal of a rural lifestyle that is rapidly disappearing.
Host Diane Tompkinson, who will share her Coupeville coop and art studio, said, “I’m a chicken lunatic and I’m passionate about art.” For her, the combination is not far-fetched. Eggs, she said, “feed your body and art feeds your soul.”
Her family has a long history of combining art with food production. In fact, her grandmother’s last name was Eihusen, which—Tompkinson noted—is German for “egg house.” Her whole family was creative and artistic, including her mom, a master carver. They produced their own food and art. “All of us learned how to gather, garden, cook and create,” she said, recalling how she would roam the family property and draw as a child.
Tompkinson’s Crow Valley Arts studio will feature her chicken prints and cards; her art is also on view at the Whidbey Art Gallery in Langley. She specializes in complex monotypes, collagraphs, and other types of prints using specialized hand-torn and hand-painted papers like salago (from a bush in the Phillipines) and embellishments like metallic paint spatters.
As she walked toward her studio, her chickens scurried to greet her from the nearby coop and garden. The scene, which included her dogs, Missy Blue and Charley, became a bucolic parade. A second year host, Tompkinson said she enjoys participating and likes helping the 4-H kids.
That sentiment was reflected by first-time host, Sherren Anderson of Clinton who specializes in fused glass art for the garden and home, as well as shimmering fused dichroic jewelry, wind chimes, and much more. A tour of her Glassworks & Gallery was accompanied by the peeping of chicks being kept warm in the adjoining room.
Along with her “greeter” border collie Molly, Anderson provided a look at her art and her three coops—one for current laying hens, one for “special needs” chickens (like one with a splayed leg), and the sunflower painted senior-citizen coop for her chickens that are beyond active egg laying but still beloved.
Looking at her busy flock pecking about the grounds, she smiled and said, “They provide me with eggs and entertainment. I call them pets with benefits.”
The coop at the home of Tamara and Kim Guthrie in Freeland is a whimsical work of art itself. Inspired by the Dr. Seuss book “Horton Hatches The Egg,” it features delightful colors, funky architecture, a disco ball and chandelier. Boy George, a proud example of rooster regality, rules this enchanting roost.
“In 2008 our daughter with her two children wanted to raise chickens for their eggs,” Tamara explained. “She had become quite the cook and saw the advantage of having eggs right out her back door.”
Daughter Sarah asked her dad Kim to build her a chicken coop with Dr. Seuss in mind, since the family was reading his books. Both daughter and dad drew up plans and when they got together, amazingly, the drawings were nearly identical except for modest differences in the chimney design (yes, it has a chimney).
Kim built it in his garage and reassembled it in his grandkids’ yard. It was base-coated white. Then last year, Sarah, her hubby and kids moved to Atlanta, so Kim put the coop on a trailer and brought it back. “I got to pick the colors that I felt were what our daughter had in mind,” Tamara said. “She came at Christmas and cried when she saw it.” It was the perfect completion of a loving family project.
The Eckholm Farm in Ebey’s Landing has a long rich history from the 1850s when it was part of the original Donation Land Claim of Isaac B. Power. Linda and Bruce Eckholm purchased it in 2013 and are working to restore features such as the original homesteader cabin and barn built by Dan Earlywine after he purchased the land in 1917.
Bruce, who describes himself as a “Wisconsin farm kid,” also has a doctorate in entomology and will happily share a wealth of information with visitors about bees, bee keeping and the vital role bees play in the environment.
The lovely, expansive farm features 75 apple trees, 20 rows of various berries, and of course, a well-appointed chicken coop and large net covered chicken yard. It’s a chance to visit a working farm located in one of the island’s most significant areas.
To learn even more about these and other coop tour hosts, check out the “Rock’n Doodle 4H Poultry Club” on Facebook.
Image at top and below (larger): The “Dr. Seuss” coop built by Kim Guthrie in Freeland. (photo by Marsha Morgan)
Barbara Moran is a college writing instructor and veteran journalist focusing on animals and nature. She can be contacted through her website at msbmoran.com.
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