They could be your… NEW NEIGHBORS? Young duo campaigns for chickens in Iola city limits

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January 31, 2014 - 12:00 AM

Levi Meiwes and Jacob Riebel walked out of the Meiwes house and toward the barn, which borders a large metal chicken coop surrounded by wire.
“The chickens stopped laying a couple weeks ago,” Levi said. “Now they’re starting up again.”
He walked into the hen house, bringing out several light brown eggs. “Not too bad,” he said of the day’s take.
The Meiwes farm, northeast of Iola, has nearly all of the barnyard essentials — a horse, pigs, cats, dogs, and of course, chickens. Jacob and Levi spend time working and playing together, but didn’t expect their first experience in government to play out through the avenue of their feathered friends.
“I’ve already promised myself I’m not going to become a politician,” Levi said.
Jacob, 14, and Levi, 10, recently appeared before the city council to propose a new ordinance for the City of Iola — to allow chickens inside the city limits. For both of them, it was an educational experience, and eye-opening in more way than one.
Jacob lives near Levi, just to the east, where his family is building a homestead. He is in eighth-grade — home-schooled with his siblings — and became involved in the project with Levi through their 4-H program. He also did the research for their proposal as a part of his school work, an idea of his mother’s, Jessica.
While speaking with the two, it became obvious that Levi is the more vocal; ironically so, because he is several inches shorter and four years younger. Jacob added to the conversation however, as he was the major contributor for their research and background of their project.
Becky Meiwes, Levi’s mother, and Jessica sat in with the two to give their insight into the experience as well — they were obviously very supportive from the beginning.
“She thought it’d be a good leadership project for the both of us, we just thought we’d drag him (Jacob) along,” Levi said with a smile.
“They’re like Huck and Tom,” Becky added from the background.
Their project started before Christmas, when Jacob and Levi began gathering information from cities that already had passed similar ordinances. It was through this research they got the “ammunition” to defend their proposal.
“Neither of us have a clue about politics,” Levi said. “We just did a lot of research, we thought we were prepared for any questions they (the Iola City Council) had.”
Council members responded with both praise and concern for the plan, to which the boys had responses for every remark.
According to the pair, Humboldt and Iola are the only two cities in Allen County that do not allow chickens. They also mentioned that major metropolitan areas allow chickens, including Topeka, Wichita, Kansas City and even New York City. They studied concerns, successes and failures and put it all in their packet, titled I.N.C. — Iola Needs Chickens!
“I think it’s neat to have fowl in the backyard to see,” Jacob said. He and Levi have spent their entire lives around birds and believe it can offer some unique learning opportunities that “city kids” can’t experience with the current ordinance in place.
“When I think of a chicken, I think of a egg-laying friend, other people think of a poop-laying foe,” Levi said. 

ANY OPPONENT to their cause didn’t seem to have much of an effect on the campaign, and both thought their presentation Monday night went well.
Part of the process was their petition, for which they gathered over 150 signatures. Before coming to the council, they spoke with as many city government officials as possible, Code Services Officer Shonda Jefferis, as well as David Toland with Thrive Allen County. They also contacted supervisors at Windsor Place — it’s residents were emphatically in support of the proposal, saying it gave them a “nostalgic” feeling to think about chickens.
As Levi and Jacob were speaking with the council, Jacob asked their supporters to stand. Dozens stood in open support for their proposal — which is not always easy to garner at the often sparsely-attended meetings.
The two were not well versed in government process, and often times were surprised by the amount of work it takes to get something done — especially for a 10- and 14-year-old.
“It wasn’t too bad, but I can’t really say I was looking forward to it at first,” Jacob said.
“It was kind of awkward sometimes, because I’m so small,” Levi added.
Regardless, they were pleasantly surprised to see how well things went, and how helpful city workers and officials were. The council voted to draft an official ordinance for the next meeting, and both of the boys are hopeful that it will pass.
“I think it was good, most of them were positive,” Levi said.
The boys are making their I.N.C. presentation on Feb. 8 as part of the 4-H Days competition in Uniontown, just two days before the council votes on the ordinance.

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