But, a closer look at our bylaws stopped us in our tracks. The city bylaws have a hefty fine attached to them for anyone who decides to keep chickens against the law: up to $10,000 and a year in jail. Not something we were willing to risk for a few eggs, pest control and compost material. This brought me to plan B. Having already partially constructed a coop for our backyard, I felt partially committed to see this idea through. I did not intend to help spearhead this initiative, but when a good friend of mine also wanted to keep chickens in her backyard, we decided to team up and make a proposal to they city. Researching the benefits and need for urban chicken keeping has moved it out of the realm of wanting my own personal interests accommodated. Being able to provide food for ourselves - all of us - is a basic human right.
|Photo by UncommonMuse.|
While the presentation was well received and the council made a motion to do further due diligence, I worry that we might not have persuaded them. Ultimately, it has to do with the view that chickens are farm animals, and allowing them in a city environment is inviting noise, odor and pests. While keeping chickens can be all of those things, it also doesn't have to be any of them. It boils down to the care and responsibility of the owner. And there's the rub. One bad apple can spoil the barrel and council's concern - and quite possibly many in society - isn't so much over the majority of people who will practice responsible stewardship, but over the few that will not.
No system is perfect and even the best set of bylaws will not prevent infractions. The question is, do we deny urban chicken keeping for those that want it out of fear over the few that might cause the city extra work, or could we turn urban chicken keeping into something the city can be proud of? Could we look at infractions as a possible revenue stream to offset any additional work? Could those of us with backyard chickens open our yards to school children for tours and teaching - set a positive example to the next generation? Could we encourage citizens to take a more proactive approach in looking after their own food supply? In times of need, a city that is more self-reliant can then put their efforts where they matter most.
Why should we add to the city's burden of dealing with stray cats and runaway dogs? Because chickens are more than pets. They provide a source of nourishment high in protein, they recycle garden waste, provide nitrogen rich compost, and they're pest control all in one tiny little package with small space requirements. If we mimic what we see in nature - plants and animals together - in our backyard, we get permaculture - a self-sustaining system for growing and providing ourselves with food. And where our food comes from in the future is something we should all be more concerned about. It's great to have a garden, but what happens when rising oil prices change the cost and availability of fertilizers and compost? Chickens help maintain a garden's fertility without the need for outside inputs. Essentially, they help close the loop.
Perhaps this all sounds a bit lofty. However, if you consider that it takes on average 10 calories of fuel to produce just one calorie of food, rising oil prices means that producing food closer to home is only going to become more import in the near future. These are issues citizens should be concerned with now. As a wise man once said, "It wasn't raining when Noah built the ark." Likewise, we won't benefit from initiatives like urban chicken keeping unless they are already in place when it matters.
This article is linked to Traditional Tuesdays, Real Food Wednesdays, Simple Lives Thursday, A Moderate Life, Preparedness Challenge and Fight Back Friday and Barn Hop.