Ministry of Controversy

Let it go

Monique

My friend Monique visits her chickens—soon to be allowed home, we hope. Photo by Cynnie Gaasch.

Sometimes I search Lexis/Nexis or Google news to look at
gardening-related topics throughout the world. It used to be fun; you’d never
know what you’d find. But, now it’s getting kind of repetitive.

Again and again, I read: homeowners stopped from growing gardens in
their easeways/parkways/medians. Or community garden space shut down for
possible development. Or, here’s another common one:  A woman is in hiding as she fights for Torontonians’ right to keep chickens
in their backyard
. People are so afraid of chickens, yet unregulated pit bulls,
snakes, iguanas, and god-knows-what roam free.

As our neighbors an hour north of us seek to decriminalize
chickens—just as Buffalo is finally succeeding in doing—I have to wonder. Who
is the enemy here? Do plants really inhibit drivers from exiting their
driveways safely? I doubt it—certainly less than a car parked on the street,
and no one is serious about suggesting it be destroyed forever. Do hens make
obnoxious noise or smells? No more than the dogs next door, and probably less. (We won't talk about cats, squirrels, rats, deer, and rabbits.) Is
it so important that an empty lot be preserved forever against the dubious
possibility of possible construction? Not in this economy: plant some tomatoes,
for god’s sake, so we can get something out of this empty land!

Finally, are city planning regulations so sacrosanct that
they should never be questioned? Are they born out of ultimate and irrefutable wisdom?
Of course not.  I took a tour of
community gardens, urban tree farms, rain gardens, clover “lawns,” and,
finally, an amazing aquaponic planting system two days ago with a former
“landscaper” who couldn’t stand one more blue spruce/smoke bush/Kentucky
bluegrass installation. He’s had it and so have I. Now he spends most of his
time acquiring available lots and transforming them into regenerative designs. He
hates the words “sustainable” and “green” because they’ve been co-opted to the
point of meaninglessness.

It seems to me that many urban planners are caught in a very
tiresome rut that goes back to the sixties and maybe before. They have not paid
attention to nature; perhaps they never did. There is no reason cities cannot
comfortably accommodate the production of local food and a better way of
handling the way we use plants. There just isn’t. 

And that is my rant for today.

Posted by on July 23, 2009 at 5:00 am, in the category Ministry of Controversy.
Comments are off for this post

25 responses to “Let it go”

  1. aagaardfarms says:

    Thank you, Elizabeth, for getting some good info out there! There must be a new way of going about things – let’s get the discussion started!

  2. Colleen says:

    That is one of the things that drives me nuts about the “rules” cities, including mine, have adopted about things like lawns, plantings, and animals—the idea that, “well, these are the rules. It’s always been this way. What’s the problem?”

    The problem is that back when my small town was founded in the 50’s, the idea of long swaths of nothing but lawn was all the rage, and people were hell-bent on leaving the farm and the whole idea of owning livestock far behind. Times change, priorities change, and city by-laws need to change as well.

  3. Diana Davis says:

    I actually find all the controversy to be a good sign. It shows that people are making changes in their lifestyle and moving away from uniform grass front lawns with three round shrubs for foundation plantings and getting their eggs from the grocery store. And the press if picking up on this movement and giving it attention. Which means that out-dated laws can be and are being changed. Change is often hard so I take all the controversy as a sign of progress.

  4. Andrew says:

    Reminds me when I was working in a traffic island garden a while ago, a guy pulled over, his wife jumped out of the car and veritably accosted us about a 4 ft. shrub in the island she said was creating a “blind.” It was about 30 ft. back from the stop sign.

    Um…. Suuuuuuure it’s creating a blind… For those who want to do a rolling stop!

  5. Andrew says:

    Oh! Also, this is why I DARE NOT try to raise bees on my semi-suburban lot. Sure, I plant things they like, so they’re everywhere anyway, but I don’t even want to think about the uproar if the neighbors saw a bee box in my backyard…

  6. Great story! You are so RIGHT about all of this!

    Cameron

  7. Its obvious about roadway plantings -car #1, period. As long as the automobile is number one, everything near or about the automobile’s road will cater to it. If cars park on the street in your neighborhood, like they do here in NYC, you can’t open the doors on the strip side if there are tomato cages there. The car culture is very strong, it blinds people, and everything must follow it.

    As for using empty lots: Just do it and if an owner shows up one day to tell you get off his land, just do that -Its his right as long as we OWN land. Its not hard to understand that well-connected city land owners have the the rules bent in their favor. So if we really want to ruffle some feathers, lets start talking about OWNERSHIP and use rights. Isn’t that what gardening or farming on empty lots is really a proxy for anyhow? Back in the day, if you didn’t make your land productive, you could lose it. Johnny Appleseed, right -sold his apples so new owners’ land would show productivity.

    As for chickens and other domesticated farm animals…I hazard that most middle-class citizens can’t recall their families raising their own and are in it, learning as they go. I suspect that the difficulty with raising urban chickens is a health issue. Chickens in close proximity to people in dense urban areas creates a vectors for disease that city health officials would prefer not to have to contend with. City commercial live chicken houses are monitored and licensed. If home owners really take to the chicken, health officials will have a hard time identifying local outbreaks at their infancy. Children interacting with those chickens will bring disease to schools unaware. While thats a worst case scenario, I’m guessing that that’s the root of the ban.

    I cannot imagine any other reason for outlawing chickens, which a city record check will probably reveal that cities began 75-100 years ago when they started to understand viral disease vectors.

    There will always be dissent. The middle-class battle over lifestyle is roaring along.

  8. rainymountain says:

    Good rant, Elizabeth.

  9. Jamie says:

    I am an environmental planner in California, working with urban planners, and one of our goals is to work with jurisdictions to change their existing policies that inhibit urban/suburban agreiculture.. please know that some of us are working to change the situation!

  10. Tatiana says:

    Great article, and in line with a post I just wrote about Calgary’s battle to bring chickens back.

    The funny thing is they were finally outlawed right around the time when they were permitted again in west coast cities like Seattle and Vancouver.

    @ Frank, I think you’re right, disease is something that must be considered. I think limiting the number of birds per family is a good first step in ensuring a sustainable situation, and maybe licensing like they now have for dogs would be feasible too.

    And even if you could get around the tomato cage on the side of the parked car, would we really all want veggies grown next to car exhaust anyhow? Lots of thinking about all this still to do.

  11. I hope sustainable is not a passe term; my book is just coming out!

  12. mb. says:

    thank you for your rant!

    I have found that nothing works to make people stop & think like “chickens eat deer tics; you know those Lyme disease carrying bugs? & other bugs, too”.

    & I am pleased to have placed six hens & counting with three different new-to-chickens people in our area.

  13. Cindy says:

    When people say to me that they’re afraid to keep chickens, I like to point out that they’re just big birds. No different than the doves in the shrubberies or the crows in the trees.
    If you feed birds, or provide nesting boxes for them then you’ve got birds in your backyard. Chickens are just a bit bigger, that’s all.

  14. Liisa says:

    frank@nycgarden: I have to take issue with the chickens=disease argument.

    1. Most cities have a strict “3 hens only” rule. I know ours does. Commercial hatcheries contain thousands of chickens, living in unhealthy proximity to each other. Any animal forced into such close confines (e.g., puppy mills) will end up being a health hazard. Our hens live in a spacious coop, with an exterior feeding/sunning area and are allowed to roam free when my veggie garden isn’t in danger of being pecked to death.

    2. Chicken poop is no more problematic than dog or cat poop. I see piles of doggie droppings everywhere, and there is no outrage about that. Far more dangerous are the “presents” other people’s cats leave in my garden boxes. Cats eat mostly meat, and their “gifts” are loaded with far more bacteria than a chicken dropping ever will be.

    3. I suspect disease is not the reason for the ban. It’s the leftover 50’s “lawns rule” mentality. The Eisenhower administration oversaw a changing world where Interstate beat out roads that actually promoted local businesses and where farm came to equal “bad.” You’re right in that people don’t remember a time when their families raised chickens. You have to go 4 generations back and all the way to pre-Revolutionary Russia to see my family with hens.

    Education, people, education. Don’t assume the rules are in place for a good reason, because sometimes they’re not.

    Our city’s 4H and FFA got our anti-chicken rules reversed so even those living in city limits could participate at County Fair.

    Y’know what? My hens start getting sick? You think I don’t care about my family? The farm/garden co-op sells chicks every Spring…

  15. Tibs says:

    Living in a small town in a county that still has lots of agriculture means that range grown eggs are easy to acquire. I get them from a coworker. When I ask my farmer friends what they think about chickens in the city they get a funny puzzled look on their face. Why would you want to? (see above for egg availability.) Then their noses curl up a little and they want to know if these urban chicken farmer want-to-bes have every been around chickens before? Then they usually say, we had chickens when I was a kid and I had to clean out the coop and they are dirty, smelly, have lice. I think so many people are so far removed from farming, food raising, and animal husbandry that they have no clue what is involved with it.

    If chickens are allowed in urban areas, require classes to be attended before you can do it. Of course, who is going to provide the classes? County extension is an obvious choice, but in my state their budget and staff has been slashed, just at a time when they are really needed. And how are you going to pay for the classes, permit fees, chicken lisence fees? taxes?

    I checked my city ordinaces. No chickens allowed, but I can have bees.

    I would love to see the minutes of city council meetings when all these zoning regulations were first passed. Probably just as much hooting and hollering going on about it is my right to raise chickens or pigs or whatever I want. Our socially progressive great grandmas that worked so hard to get these anti farming regulations passed for sanitary and health reasons are probably flipping in their graves.

  16. “Do plants really inhibit drivers from exiting their driveways safely? I doubt it—”
    Don’t doubt it, Believe it.
    I hit a pedestrian ( fortunately no one was hurt) due to a hedge blocking my view while pulling out of a driveway.
    Two weeks ago I was asked to cut back down a hedge of laurel that was blocking a view.
    Glad I did, as I was performing the work , I watched as a two young boys were nearly missed by a car who were not seen by an exiting car.

    Public Safety laws are written because they are responding to incidents and accidents that happen regularly.

  17. Teri says:

    Hear, Hear!

    I am one of your neighbours to the north, only its worse as I’m a neighbour from the northwest (in fact probably the most backward city in this country). And around here about all I can do is read about these great things that are going on in other parts of the world and watch the efforts he basically be run out of town. Of course if anyone actually was run out of town I believe we still have in the law books that they must be given a horse, a rifle and 2 days provisions which might not be a bad deal.

    Anyway the point is I think much good could be done if the politicians would get their heads out of… But around here its going to take a few more generations I fear.

    Sincerely from the city that outlawed chickens the first time around the same time New York City made them legal again..

  18. Deirdre says:

    I live in Seattle. We have a 4 animal rule, That can be any combination of dogs, cats, chickens, pygmy goats, I’m not sure if they allow pigs. Some of the neighbors have chickens. So long as they don’t have roosters that crow all night, there have been no problems. The little bantams next door used to come keep me company when I was weeding. I kind of miss them.

    I wouldn’t eat anything grown next to the road. The soil is probably full of lead from the old days of leaded gasoline. I have herbs up there, but I only use the ones from the back yard.

    The reality is people do need to be able to get in and out of their cars, and they need to be able to see. If you can do something beautiful while accomodating that, more power to you. I love a well planted traffic circle.

  19. Eliz says:

    For the record, Buffalo is passing one of the most restrictive chicken ordinances ever–probably the strictest in the country. I was at the hearing. 4 hens, all neighbors must OK, must be so many feet from neighboring property lines and houses, no running free, no selling of eggs, regular inspections, no this, no that …

    And we have classes on how chickens should be raised.

    As for curbside plantings and cars, I think people have to use common sense and caution as they should always do when they drive. I am really tired of the car is king mentality, too.

  20. Liisa,

    No one can say that your chickens or my chickens or any set of chickens will be the vector for new disease. Its not that they are, but that they could be and it’s hard to control once it begins.

    I bet, just a bet now, that we can count on our chicken claws how many city people know what influenza looks like in their city chicken. Will they spot it before their child picks up that chicken, then rubs their eyes?

    This is not about poop! There are diseases of our rampant pigeon population poop that should concern us more. I got feral cat poop in my world as well. Our domesticated farm animals have given us many of our viral infections over 10K years.
    Close relations are responsible for new leaps from domesticated farm animals to humans. In rural settings, the pathways to multiple humans is limited compared to the city with its density, common transport, etc.

    I’m also not talking about the healthy lifestyle of our chickens. Yes, I agree with you about the factory farms, but this is not the issue either. Despite the good lifestyle of our city chickens, they still can host a mutated H5N1 that can be deadly to humanity who has had little exposure to it.

    I do not doubt that you have the will and heart to slaughter your chickens. But should disease break out, you won’t have to, they’ll come and get them for you, even if they’re healthy.

    None of this is to say don’t do it, outlaw, ban it or whatever, its just to say that the city is a context all its own and needs special consideration. That, in combination with our general inexperience, should motivate us to be moderate. Government over-reacts because it doesn’t know how to manage these new cultural yearnings.

    Kill the car, mostly.

  21. Brooke Dryden says:

    You have to watch out when you let the government control and license your food supply like your chickens and eggs. They want to control backyard chicken farmers, when it’s the factory farms that are a sespool for disease. All you need to do is read about the proposed NAIS (national animal ID system) where the government wants to literally microchip and track each one of your backyard animals.

  22. Brooke Dryden says:

    nonais.org

  23. Factory farms may be a “disease ready,” but that’s just another issue.

    Some say the government wants to put chips in us as well…

  24. caliGardengirl says:

    Most backyard chickens are leaps and bounds healthier and more sanitary than any chicken farm. Many people do not know that, and that just shows how disconnected we are from our food. Try an egg from your neighbor’s backyard compared to a store-bought egg and it can tell volumes. Chickens abused or neglected produce sub-standard eggs.

    I wonder how many of the local governments that ban backyard chickens have chicken farms or receive some sort of subsidy from them? I mean, why would they care? Diseases? Do they really have the gall to call these homeowners filthy? Then why does the localities call their backyard pets that? Do they think that these people who raise chickens don’t know how to clean up after them? Why do people who have chickens just stand around and let someone insinuate that they are dirty and raise filthy creatures?

    So many questions…..

  • Follow Garden Rant

    Follow Me on Pinterest RSS