“Chicken Window Happy Hours” a way for Denver neighbors to form bonds through urban farming

Along the sidewalk of a street lined with brick and stucco homes in Denver’s Alamo Placita neighborhood, two makeshift stone steps lead to a nondescript window built into a backyard fence. Curious passersby are greeted by clucking hens, which occasionally stick out their heads between the wooden lattice in search of treats.

To the left, a hand-painted sign reads, “Chicken Window Happy Hour,” scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday. Peter Thulson, a third-generation Denverite, is the keeper of the birds and the stately house adjoined to the coop.

A chicken is seen through a window cutout in a fence in the Alamo Placita neighborhood, so people can see the backyard poultry and feed them snacks in Denver on June 20, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

Thulson held his first happy hour during the COVID-19 pandemic, spray painting spots 6 feet apart on the grass, then dropping off flyers to invite his neighbors to join.

“Lonely, I thought something like that would be great,” Thulson said. “Turns out, everybody was hungry for one another’s company.”

Thulson and several of his neighbors in the Alamo Placita Historic District are embracing urban farming in the heart of the city. A 10-minute drive from downtown Denver, residents are trying their hands at raising chickens, growing vegetables and beekeeping in their backyards. Through their efforts, they say they’re also building a more sustainable community.

“We get hungry for that, too: a little more greenery and dirt under our fingernails,” Thulson said. “We’re becoming more aware of environmental issues — makes us want to try to revive the greenery.”

Patrick Williams, president of the Alamo Placita Neighbors Association, is a frequent attendee of the chicken window happy hour. There, Thulson and other residents set up chairs and bring beverages, socializing next to his “little chicken ranch,” Williams said.

“It’s kind of like a sounding board for people in the neighborhood to get to know other people,” Williams, 79, said. “These are binding agents for the neighborhood.”

The ongoing tradition hasn’t changed much since the pandemic, except for its openness, he added.

“Our backyard, we like to feel, is our sanctuary in the city,” Williams said. “And I know many people in our neighborhood that do the same thing.”

A resident in the Alamo Placita neighborhood installed a window in their fence, so people passing could look in on the bee hives they have in their backyard in Denver on June 20, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

One block north of Thulson’s house, another Denverite is managing bee hives behind a home built in 1917. Along 6th Avenue, a clear window cut into a red wooden fence reveals pollinators buzzing behind the divider. A mounted dry erase board provides details on the hives, including the status of the individual queens, and advertises days when neighbors can meet the bees.

The beekeeper didn’t respond to multiple interview requests.

About 4,000 members belong to the Colorado Backyard Beekeepers group on Facebook. However, raising chickens seems much more popular, with more than 13,000 members in the Colorado Backyard Chickens group.

In Denver, the zoning code for chickens and ducks has been in place for at least the past decade, said Ryan Huff, spokesman for the Community Planning and Development Department.

The rules include a limit of eight poultry per lot, a requirement to keep the animals in the lot’s rear half and a ban on slaughter. No roosters or drakes are allowed. Owners must provide adequate shelter and fencing, with 16 square feet of land per bird.

For domestic honey bees, only two hives are allowed per lot, located in its rear third. Hives must be screened.

Notably, Denverites can also care for up to two pygmy goats. A food-producing animal permit costs $25, which allows the keeping of chickens, ducks and goats as pets or hobbies, as well as for educational purposes. The food can be kept for personal consumption by the resident.

“We all inspire one another”

On Thursday evening, three excited children stood at Thulson’s chicken window, extending handfuls of dried mealworms to pecking hens.

In the front yard, rows of tomatoes, chiles, green beans, summer squash, winter squash and pumpkins were planted where a lawn once was. Years ago, Thulson’s daughter suggested digging it up to make space for gardening, and he did just that.

Niko Garcia Benét, 13, feeds dried mealworms to chickens through a window cut out in a fence at Peter Thulson’s home in the Alamo Placita neighborhood in Denver on June 20, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

“It’s more fun to grow vegetables than to grow grass,” he said.

Down the street, he referred to another resident as “our tomato guru,” growing tomato plants for the neighbors. “We all inspire one another,” Thulson added.

He grew up in southeast Denver and attended George Washington High School before heading to Illinois for college. There, he met his wife, Anne.

After 15 years away, they returned to Colorado once their first child was born, initially moving to the University Park neighborhood. Then, in 1996, the couple settled into their Alamo Placita home, with three young kids in tow.

Erected in 1905, the house is nicknamed “the Alamo” by the family — one of many Denver homes divided into apartments during the World War II era, Thulson said. Incidentally, his mother grew up close by on the 500 block of Pearl Street.

The chickens took up residency when Thulson worked as a kindergarten teacher. His students hatched eggs in a classroom incubator, and he brought the chicks home to roost.

“At that time, Denver had just recently began allowing that in town again after all those years of forbidding it,” Thulson said. “We’ve had them ever since.”

He called his routine with his flock “fairly low maintenance” — providing water and food, mucking the coop and collecting eggs. Today, most of his hens are elderly, but three young chickens have started laying eggs.

And, then, there’s the chicken window happy hour where Thulson sees both newcomers and familiar faces.

“It’s a walking neighborhood, so you do see a lot of people and wave at them, but used to not tend to hold on to their names very long,” he said. “But when they sit down and chat with you, while you get to know them, you start to remember.”

Neighbors weigh in

Christa Meyers has lived with her husband and long-haired dachshund, Sofie, in a house near the chicken coop for two years.

She and her spouse have yet to attend the happy hour, but they walk by the property to feed worms to the hens. The pair has also spotted the beekeeper a block away.

A man walks his dog past a window cutout in a fence in the Alamo Placita neighborhood, so people can see their backyard chickens and feed them snacks in Denver on June 20, 2024. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

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“I love it because, obviously, we’re in a city, but we have the luxuries of feeling more suburban,” Meyers said, cradling Sofie in her living room on Thursday.

She decided against growing her own garden this year, but “neighbors have given me some big zucchinis and tomatoes,” Meyers said.

Martin Lavine, a lifelong Denver resident, has resided by Alamo Placita Park for two years. He routinely passes the chicken coop with his dog, Gus, five nights out of the week.

Lavine, 58, owns PUSH Gym on 5th Avenue, and says one of his clients also cares for chickens.

“It’s cool. I’d like to see more,” he said. “It’s good for the earth and whatnot.”

When Lavine sees other Denverites sharing their hobbies like vegetable growing with the community, he considers it “really neighborly.”

“It’s a Denver thing,” he said. “It’s just a fairly pleasant, kind of easy place to live.”

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