Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Quiet Revolution

A quiet revolution is stirring in our food system. It is not happening so much on the distant farms that still provide us with the majority of our food; it is happening in cities, neighborhoods, and small towns. It has evolved out of the basic need that every person has to know their food, and to have some sense of control over its safety and its security. It is a new agricultural revolution that provides poor people with a safety net, and opportunity to provide nourishment and income for their families. And it provides an oasis for the human spirit where urban people can gather, preserve something of their culture through native seeds and foods, and teach their children about food and the earth.
The revolution is taking place in small gardens, under railroad tracks and power lines, on rooftops, at farmers' markets, and in the most unlikely of places. It is a movement that has the potential to affect a number of social issues - economic justice, environmental quality, personal health, community empowerment, and cultural connection. It is especially important for the world's poor, a majority of whom now live in cities.  Source.

Windsor can attest to the power of this revolution sweeping the developed world.  While many of us have always had vegetable gardens in their backyards, a number of changes have occurred recently on the locavore front:  The Windsor Downtown Farmers' Market completed its second successful season, we have several community gardens, with a new one starting in the spring.  We can buy meat from local farmers and have it delivered to our doors - Trusty Food to You and County Connect are just two available services.  We also have a CSA but if gardening is not for you, Natural Earth Organics will deliver a weekly veggie box to your doorstep.   There's a lot more happening behind the scenes too.

There's one major food, however, that is not covered by these great initiatives:  eggs.

Most of us eat eggs every day, whether we consume them boiled, scrambled, fried, or indirectly, such as when we eat baked goods, desserts or fortified breads.

It's not easy to obtain fresh pastured eggs in Windsor:  for one thing, farmers are not allowed to sell their ungraded eggs beyond their farm gate.  You also can't freeze whole eggs, so buying them in bulk is not an option.  And it's impossible to buy free range eggs in the stores, since they are not commercially available in Ontario.

So if you're looking for a locally-produced source of eggs from chickens that have been outside in their lifetime, your only option is to take a drive into the county.  It's not an efficient option if you don't happen to have business that takes you to the county on a regular basis, and it's not at all feasible if you don't have a car to begin with.

Isn't it strange that Canada's southernmost city doesn't have a comprehensive locavore strategy at the forefront of its political agenda?  If this quiet revolution is spreading throughout the developed world, Windsor, struggling for recognition as a serious player when it comes to green energy manufacturing, cannot afford to ignore it. 

We need to be looking at all the different foods that we eat, and ensuring they are all readily available.  It makes no sense to have plentiful locally grown vegetables and meat, but to decide upfront without any further investigation or discussion that eggs are not important.

I don't like to admit this, but in my opinion, the city's willingness to consider backyard chickens is even more important than the final decision on whether to allow them.  That's because it displays a recognition of the importance of the local food movement and the fact that eggs are missing from our locavore menu.

Progressive cities are "getting it" more quickly than others when it comes to embracing locavorism.  In the final analysis, those are the cities that are going to win out when it comes to economic development.  Because just as cream rises to the top, the best people tend to choose the best cities to live in.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why I agree with Mayor Francis on Urban Hens

City Hall cannot allow constituent concerns to occupy all of its time.  Not when it should be focused on fulfilling a vision for Windsor.  Are we going to spend the next three months debating chickens?
That is Mayor Francis' opinion, and I happen to agree with him.

This is exactly why the Licencing Commission recommended a working  group that would look at the issue.

That's the way efficient councils work.  They delegate the work to subcommittees who quietly perform the task behind the scenes, so public time is not wasted.

We don't have to have lengthy debates on the issue, especially not now, before looking at the facts.   Looking at the facts includes researching the pros and cons, and learning from other cities that have already gone through this process.

The working group should also look how urban chickens, together with the larger story of food sovereignty, will help Windsor project a more forward thinking, progressive image that is conducive to attracting new residents, and keeping Windsorites from moving away.  Economic development is unarguably a major strategic goal.

We don't need a large cumbersome working group. We need one with just enough resources to do the job efficiently.  This process has been done already in many other cities, and there are a number of volunteers available to help with this task, so very few City resources need to be expended.  Let's just get on with it.

This fits in well with the City's mission statement :

The City of Windsor, with the involvement of its citizens, will deliver effective and responsive municipal services, and will mobilize innovative community partnerships.

And the City's vision:
Windsor, Canada's southernmost city and international gateway, is a diverse community of safe caring neighbourhoods, with a vibrant economy and a healthy sustainable environment.
Let's stop the debates.  We should establish an innovative community partnership involving our citizens and lets get to work on our vision to live in a healthy sustainable environment.  An effective and responsive municipal service will see the sense in that.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Copy of a letter I sent to Council this afternoon

Dear Councillors:

I am writing to urge you to be open-minded as regards opening the discussion on backyard hens in Windsor, which has important ramifications for the locavore food movement in this region.  It goes far beyond a handful of residents wishing to achieve better control over their own food supply.

I am aware that many of you feel backyard hens are a no-go for our city.  At first glance, I can’t say I’m surprised, given how far removed chickens have become from our daily lives.  The risks of disease and contamination from large-scale factory farming have had the unfortunate effect of mistakenly convincing some people that those risks are likewise present in small backyard coops. 

You may be surprised to learn that backyard chickens have broad support in Windsor, as shown by over 200 supporters of the region’s Facebook page, and over 300 votes in favour (against just 6 against) in a public poll.  Many of those people do not wish to own chickens themselves, but feel our community will benefit from being tolerant towards those who do.

Last week I was at the Dr. David Suzuki School when the Samsung wind turbine announcement was made.  I feel strongly that the long term success of the region’s green energy strategy, as well as its economic revival, depends on our ability to follow through with green initiatives that touch the way we conduct our lives on a day to day basis.

In that regard, Council needs to show its unconditional support for environmental initiatives, especially those that have the potential to improve our food supply – from backyard hens to support of farmers’ markets and community gardens.  By embracing a locavore strategy, we can make Windsor an attractive place for the creative class so many of you talked about in the run-up to the election.

Windsor is lucky to have one of the best and longest growing seasons in Canada.  We have almost unlimited potential to rebrand the area as an eco-hotspot.  However, we are currently hamstrung by a conservative blue-collar mentality which prizes automobiles over green forms of living, and an over-concentration of fast food outlets that have led to above average obesity rates. 

The chronic difficulties of attracting enough medical professionals to this region are well-documented.  I am sure you are keen to attract other highly qualified professionals too, as well as stemming the brain-drain to cities that are perceived as being more progressive.  Case in point: this afternoon’s shock announcement that John Morris Russell, the conductor of the WSO, is moving to Cincinnati.  There is no doubt in my mind that this decision was related to a perception that Cincinnati has more to offer his young family than Windsor ever could.

I can tell you quite frankly that your decision to indefinitely defer the Licensing Commission’s recommendation to form a working group on backyard chickens was more disappointing to me than a no-vote following a comprehensive review of all the facts could ever be. 

To me, this was a clear message that Windsor’s Council is not particularly interested in ideas submitted by residents.  Dismissive comments from councillors, the lack of any response at all from my own ward councillor, the 15 minute discussion just to arrive at a date to put the matter back on the table, as well as the recent back-and-forth about the location of the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market send a clear signal that “hot topic” locavore food matters are way down on Windsor’s priority list.

I fully agree that control over our budget is a high priority, and I would be the last to suggest the expenditure of huge resources in this regard.  Instead, I would recommend “working smarter, not harder”.  For example, instead of lengthy debates to establish dates and other fine details, I urge you to minimize the deliberate use of bureaucratic obstacles that hamper, rather than help the proposal.  You can also reduce costs by taking advantage of volunteer help from residents and local aid organizations.

As regards backyard hens, I would be honoured to serve as a volunteer on a committee, as recommended by the Licensing Commission.   It is my understanding is that several other residents are also available in a volunteer capacity. 

Please feel free to contact me to discuss this matter further.
Philippa von Ziegenweidt

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why the push for urban farming?

It's a good question, and that might puzzle a city person who has never considered growing their own vegetables. If you are one of those people, have you ever wondered why the landscaping industry is so much larger than the vegetable gardening industry? Why do we tend to hide our vegetable gardens at the back, giving centre stage to the ornamental landscaping?

For me, I can say without a doubt, that there's nothing more satisfying than heading out to the garden (just 10 feet from the kitchen door), to grab a carrot and some herbs for something I'm cooking. No refrigeration or storage, no need to peel or even wash, the food goes straight into the pot. It's perfect for people who hate the chore of shopping for produce - it's heavy and bulky, and if you don't eat it quickly enough it spoils in the fridge. I find we waste less food from the garden because we only pick what we need. All the leftovers go to the compost bins, and return to the garden the following year to enrich the next season's crops. This reduces the volume of garbage we send to the landfill, and we benefit directly from having way less stinky dirty trash - especially in the heat of the summer, it makes a noticeable difference.

I also love it when I see my children raiding my garden for strawberries, raspberries or peas in the pod. What better way to get them to eat fresh seasonal produce and connect with where they come from?

It's easy to take our grocery stores for granted, with their shelves stocked full of shiny produce and cartons of eggs. But do you know how much food we buy in Windsor comes from elsewhere? Even tomatoes and cukes are often shipped in from Mexico or California. How is it people living in Canada's Tomato Capital, in the country's southernmost region, eat imported tomatoes? Does that not strike you as absurd? Not only that, but it means that a lot of fuel goes into the price of putting that produce on your table. The varieties also have to be longer lasting, with thicker skins, which can require some sacrifice of flavour and nutrients. Doesn't it make more sense to obtain your food from closer to home?

There is a food security aspect to consider. Much of our food comes from us from across the Windsor-Detroit border, as well as from warehouses and supply points closer to Toronto. If anything were to happen to break those supply lines, we wouldn't have more than a couple of days of food in the region to sustain us. Even worse, if something happened to our fuel supply - either a significant price spike (with peak oil upon us, that's something you just have to consider), or a disruption in the actual supply - this would undoubtedly push our region into a very difficult situation.

These are just some of the reasons why urban farming is important to me and my family. Adding backyard chickens to the mix takes it another step further, but the underlying reasons to keep them are exactly the same. Chickens, by virtue of the high quality protein from their eggs, provide a complex form of nutrition, but they also take the composting cycle a step further. They eat the food scraps we currently throw in the compost bin, processing it more rapidly, which in turn provides fertilizer for the garden. In this way, chickens and vegetables can coexist very efficiently in our backyards.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Why can't Windsor be more like Ann Arbor?

This is what two of Windsor's councillors said about urban chickens last month:
"I think most people are opposed to chickens in the city," said Ron Jones.
 "People in this community don't want chickens running around in their backyards*," according to Councillor Drew Dilkens, adding that it would be "clucking ridiculous" for city administrative staff to be tied up in a committee investigating something that might benefit only "a very small handful of people."
Really?   I would like to suggest strongly that many more than a very small handful of people stand to benefit from the proposed working group and a supportive council.

I do agree that it is unlikely that many people will want to acquire chickens, at least at first.

But that doesn't make it unimportant.

I would argue that food security, access to healthy food and local food that minimizes the use of fossil fuels, and a city council that actively supports them make for an exciting, vibrant city where people want to live.   And since we don't have a whole lot of that in Windsor at the moment, if we want it (and who doesn't?), a good way to get started is to start small.  A small number of residents with legal backyard hens would be a good start.

Ann Arbor is a great example of a similarly sized city that is wonderful to visit, and it's only an hour away.  I would almost give an eyetooth to live there.  Our family heads to the downtown area periodically for the day just to feel better.  It has a vibrant farmer's market, a variety of restaurants, CSA's, food co-ops, numerous litle tea and coffee shops, and last but not least, urban chickens are legal there.  You could say Ann Arbor got the foodie formula right. 
This past summer the Windsor Downtown Farmers' Market committee ran into roadblocks with Council when they tried to secure a long term lease on their location.  This grassroots initiative was one of Downtown's first unmitigated success stories.  But instead of wholeheartedly embracing the idea and running with it, our Council tried to convince them to move to a different location.  I'm not privy to the discussions that went on, so I don't want to read too much into this, other than to point out that Council does not appear (to the public, at least) to champion the market 100%.

As regards urban chickens, it's important to note what was NOT argued when Council voted to indefinitely defer the matter:  They did NOT say they would prefer to be considering local/urban/organic food initiatives that would directly benefit a greater number of people.  They did NOT say they thought poverty in our city could be more effectively addressed via a different strategy.  They did NOT contact the urban chicken committee to say that they would prefer to start this public discussion with a bigger picture strategy.

No, they did not do any of the above.  By deferring the issue in a meeting without public input, they sent a clear message that it's not important enough to them.  End of story.

I find this puzzling.  On the one hand our mayor goes overseas, bringing back Samsung and a huge green energy contract.  On the other hand, an environmentally-minded grassroots residents' initiative is too low on the priority list.  Does that make sense to you?  Just because it doesn't involve billions of dollars, it's not important?  Shouldn't a green energy strategy for the region involve not only big industrial projects that provide jobs, but also small projects that enable residents to live environmentally consciously on a day-to-day basis?

At first, I might have believed it's the fact that the issue involves urban chickens.  But the Downtown Farmers' Market ran into similar issues.  So I prefer to think the problem is more likely to be rooted in Council's priorities, and the way they deal with resident-driven ideas, rather than the idea itself.

*  Note that Cluck Windsor's online poll shows overwhelming support for backyard chickens, and very little opposition.  That seems to contradict the Councillors' statements.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

More on prioritizing resources

On January 24th, Council will decide whether the issue of legalizing urban chickens is sufficiently high on the priority list to warrant looking at it in more detail.

It's not about whether to legalize them, though if you haven't been following the discussion closely, you might be forgiven for thinking that.

The Commission wrote that:
The issue of backyard chickens....has become a hot topic in municipalities across Canada and the United States....The community needs to consider this issue in an open and transparent manner and allow all interested parties to engage in the discussion.

Nobody is expecting large numbers of Windsorites to go out and acquire coops, so if you are disinterested in the discussion (perhaps having missed the linkage to food sovereignty), you might also be forgiven for thinking the issue is not particularly high up on the priority list.

Except for one thing.

Everybody agrees that Windsor is in a recession.  Attracting well-qualified people to the area is a priority.  Our shortage of doctors has been going on for years.  Stopping the loss of well-qualified professionals and jobs to other areas is a priority.  Keeping graduating students in Windsor is a priority. Attracting new business to Windsor is vitally important - after all, why else did our Mayor travel to South Korea last week?

Each family lost to another city is a loss to our tax base.  That is a loss of resources.  Added up together, the lost resources far exceed the cost of striking a committee, especially if that committee is set up efficiently and gets right on with the job.

And because of this, it's really important to think about what those families would see as attractive in other cities relative to Windsor.

I'll admit urban chickens probably aren't the main issue for the vast majority of them.  But I'm pretty sure they would love a place that is buzzing with organic food, community gardens and farmers' markets.  A place that is making the most of its location, which happens to be the country's southernmost, and warmest, region.

What is also vitally important is that they see Windsor as a city that is open to ideas, discussion, and debate.  That residents can speak up when they want to do something that will improve the quality of life in the city, and that they will be listened to.  That the city is in tune with environmental movements that are sweeping the continent and open to adopting them here.

I really like a lot of what Richard Florida has to say.  His creative class was mentioned quite a lot in the run up to the November election, though I suspect most people used him as a buzzword and probably hadn't actually read his books.  (If you are one of them -  they are available at the Windsor Public Library - I could sum up his premise as follows:  metropolitan areas with blue collar concentrations will continue to lose ground to those with non-transferable skills that are cool places to be.)  His message is quite depressing when you find yourself living in one of the cities losing ground and you don't see it doing absolutely everything it can to position itself to be a creative city, pandering instead to "old guard" constituents who don't know too much about life on the other side of the fence.

The good news is that our economic development strategy includes a piece that sees Windsor becoming a leader in the green energy sector.  That's right up there with the creative cities.  Yesterday's Samsung announcement was a big-picture plus for Windsor.

But an effective creative city goes further.  We need to see evidence of our green strategy in the small stuff.  Plenty of it.  Windsor needs to be an attractive place for the creative class to live.

And that means that we need to be prepared to prioritize ideas that improve our urban sustainability, especially if those ideas are already hot topics in other municipalities across Canada.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Won't urban chickens use up more city resources?

This question was brought up by the Licencing Commission while they were researching the subject of urban chickens in Windsor, and I've heard people ask the same thing.

The thinking is that a small number of law-abiding chicken owners might be ok, but what if somebody decides to have a flock of 30, or keep roosters?

Well, for argument's sake, let's say the City decides residents may own up to 3 hens, and no roosters, reflecting what has been allowed in most cities that allow backyard poultry.

As of today, it is against the bylaw to own a flock of 30 chickens. After the hypothetical law-change, this would stay equally illegal.

So rather than worrying about additional resources to challenge homeowners who flaunt the rules in the future, shouldn't we start by looking at how much of a drain on public resources it is today?

As a matter of fact, Sarah Kacso is looking into that already, and she'll report on it in her blog when she gets the information she has requested.

This question also highlights the importance of a well-formed working group that invites (and uses) input from all interested residents.  If the bylaw is changed to reflect a consensus opinion from the vast majority of future urban chicken owners, there is little reason to expect any of those people to flaunt the rules.  It wouldn't be in their interests.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

What happens to roosters?

Have you ever wondered about that?

Those of us who would like to see urban chickens legalized in Windsor, are talking about hens only.  We don't want roosters.

This is what Gord Henderson had to say on the matter in last week's column in the Windsor Star:

Chickens are quiet as long as you ban roosters? And that last bit, by the way, could be the subject of a charter challenge, given the blatant sexism.

Well, Gord, I don't think the Chicken Farmers of Canada want to hear about a charter challenge.  They don't need too many roosters and they certainly don't want you thinking about them.  If you think this is blatant sexism in backyard operations, how does that make the poultry industry look?

You see, they kill them.

Most roosters today have little chance to act out, service a harem or crow. On modern commercial egg farms, which produce 98 percent of the eggs Americans consume, roosters are killed at birth. If a chick is male, it’s immediately dispatched.
Yes, baby roosters are disposed of.  Culled.  Killed.  Call it what you like, but they don't survive.  Since roosters don't grow up with big juicy breasts, they aren't needed for their meat, and it's more efficient to dispose of them soon after birth.  The odd one slips through and might end up as broiler meat, and of course a couple are needed for breeding.  But the vast majority of roosters do not survive infancy.

How do they do it?  Well in Canada, they are usually gassed.  The book Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs (available at Windsor Public Library) describes even less savoury (but highly efficient) dispatching practices like chucking the chicks into a chipper.  

No, this isn't a bizarre porn ad (though be warned if you decide to google the topic). It's a real job opening for the expert who can identify the male chicks.
And if you were wondering about the average ratio of hens to roosters, it is about 50:50.

How does that fit in with urban chickens?  Well here is my take.  The average life of a commercial egg laying hen is about 1 1/2 years.  After that, she gets slaughtered and ends up on somebody's plate.  Compare that to the normal lifespan of a chicken, which is 5 to 6 years.  Let's be conservative and say that's about 3 times longer.  That's how long you can expect to keep your urban chicken.

So if you keep a hen for your own egg consumption, that's at least 2 commercial hens' lives saved.  But, again, keeping it conservative, another 2 to 3 unnecessary roosters weren't  dispatched.

Charter challenge and glib comments about sexism aside, preventing 4 to 5 animal deaths is something to think about.

The Path to Urban Hens: Right Perspective

Greetings wonderful people of Windsor and Essex, and indeed around the world.

So much can be made of the Great Urban Chicken Debate. Reality, if I/we'd never raised the issues when we were raising our chickens, there would have been none. That being said, this issue is greater than the political tail wagging, infantile press reports from columnists, alley humor from Councillors, and general radio noise and nonsense. This, at the core, is a food security issue.
"Food sovereignty" is a term originally coined by Via Campesina in a flyer at the World Food Summit +5 (Rome2002) to refer to a concept advocated by a number of farmers', peasants', and fishermen's organizations, namely the claimed "right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture," in contrast to having food largely subject to international market forces.
Peter Rosset, writing in Food First's Backgrounder, fall 2003, argues that "Food sovereignty goes beyond the concept of food security... [Food security] means that... [everyone] must have the certainty of having enough to eat each day[,] ... but says nothing about where that food comes from or how it is produced." The concept of food sovereignty includes support for smallholders and for collectively owned farms, fisheries, etc., rather than industrializing these sectors in a minimally regulated global economy.

"Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to define their own food and agriculture; to protect and regulate domestic agricultural production and trade in order to achieve sustainable development objectives; to determine the extent to which they want to be self reliant; to restrict the dumping of products in their markets, and; to provide local fisheries-based communities the priority in managing the use of and the rights to aquatic resources. Food sovereignty does not negate trade, but rather, it promotes the formulation of trade policies and practices that serve the rights of peoples to safe, healthy and ecologically sustainable production."

-"Statement on People's Food Sovereignty" by Via Campesina, et. al.
With that cleared up, on to Windsor, Ontario, Canada. You have to wonder what the real threat is. In my personal career, often the real issue in working with people boils down to personal opinions and control. I think this way so you can't have your way. So much for healthy intellectual or communal research. Sometimes theories abound regarding why mutually committed consensus and reporting will not be an option. Too much money, yet we'll spend 6 million trying to get our way with Greenlink. Human resources, yet we have a surplus of city workers now that garbage is contracted out and the highest unemployment rate in Canada. Hmmm. Seems like we're back to the opinion argument again.

Urban chicken lovers take good courage. Good people with good intentions will triumph in this city, if not today, we shall not disappear, we will not go away, despite being labeled by press and politicians as the 'usual suspects' in the activist field. We shall find our way.

History is a relay of revolutions.

In the meantime, write your Councillor and let them know how you feel. Contact your mayor and ask for a respectable decision for all, for decorum in council. Speak up to your neighbor, get to know them and talk about the real issues. And most of all, if you are so moved to, challenge the status quo. They don't speak for me.

Monday, November 29, 2010

All about Poop

In a recent article in the Windsor Star, Doug Schmidt recently reported that:

One opponent of urban chickens pointed out the filthy fowl each produce about a pound of poop per week. How does one manage that amount of crap, I thought, until I realized that's how much my dog produces each and every morning, even before I start my commute to work.

He went on to explain that Windsor's bylaws also prohibit residents from disposing of said poop in the weekly trash.    Urban chicken opponents might be mollified by the fact that the weekly volume is less than the daily volume of one single dog, but chicken lovers have a completely different perspective, and wouldn't want that poop to leave the property in the first place.

You see, chicken manure is one of the best natural fertilizers for the garden.  According to the website Gardening Know How:

Chicken manure fertilizer is very high in nitrogen and also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. The high nitrogen and balanced nutrients is the reason that chicken manure compost is the best kind of manure to use.
 Composting chicken manure is simple. If you have chickens, you can use the bedding from your own chickens.
 The next step in chicken manure composting is to take the used bedding and put it into a compost bin. Water it thoroughly and then turn it every few weeks to get air into the pile.

What could be simpler than that?  Just wait 9-12 months and the compost is ready.  By feeding kitchen scraps to the chickens and letting them speed up the composting process, it's a good way of both diminishing the amount of waste that goes out on the street, as well as eliminating the need to purchase fertilizer at the store, and saving money on both counts.

What would I do?

I was an auditor and later a consultant for several years before moving to Windsor, so I love drafting recommendations and developing solutions that work.

I believe we need a working group to examine the question from all angles, invite input from the public, and then work out a recommendation based on the results of the findings.   A pilot program would be a helpful tool to reach a well-informed decision.

If I were to run the show, this would be my suggestion:

I would invite a finite number, say 50, of families to apply for a licence to participate in a pilot program on a first-come, first-served basis.  I would not recommend charging a lot for this licence (and I would much prefer no charge at all), but a very modest fee to cover administrative costs is not unreasonable.  After all, one of the objectives is to enable people on a tight budget to obtain affordable quality eggs.  Also, we know there are people with illicit backyard chickens in Windsor.  If they felt the fee was too high, they would simply remain underground.

I would have them sign a short agreement to abide by the rules.

And then I would allow those people to keep chickens.
  • If there were well-founded complaints about the way they were keeping their chickens, the city would have grounds to terminate or refuse to renew their licence.
  • If the pilot program was successful, the city could easily increase the number of licences available to allow a simple expansion of the plan.
This would keep the program manageable.   At the end of the first year, the working group would be required to report back to Council about the successes and challenges of the program.  What do you think?

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What do Windsorites Think?

It's hard to tell for sure without a formal referendum.  Some councillors claim their constituents don't want the current bylaw to be overturned.  There seems to be no proof though. (If you haven't done so yet, please email your councillor so they know where you stand)

In fact, Councillor Alan Halberstadt has posted emails he has received from Windsorites on his website, and they are overwhelmingly in favour of allowing urban chickens.

The Windsor chapter of CLUCK has an online poll, which at last count has over 300 votes in favour of urban chickens, and only 6 that are not in favour.  (If you haven't cast your vote yet, please do so!)

I have also been talking about the issue with people I know, and those I don't know so well.  Not one single person told me they think the bylaw should stay as it is.  Responses have ranged from irritation that there is a bylaw at all, to one elderly friend who told me he thought it was a ridiculous concept when he first heard of it;  however, with all the media attention, he's been doing his own research and not only does he now support it, but he would like a couple of chickens of his own!  I even found a family in my own neighbourhood who have kept 2 chickens for the past 4 years.  They have no intention of coming out of the closet after what the bylaws enforcement officers did at Sarah Kacso's house.

This is what I think.  We need to properly frame the question properly before we can determine where Windsorites stand, and that is why we need Council to strike a working committee.  I don't, however, believe we have to make this difficult.  For example, perhaps you would support a bylaw amendment that allows the following:

Up to 3 well-looked after hens (no roosters) in a properly fenced-in area.  Eggs may not be sold, nor may slaughtering take place on the premises.

If that were the gist of the bylaw, would you want to keep chickens yourself?  Or would you support others' right to have them?  Are those rules too restrictive or not restrictive enough?  Would you want the chickens to reside a certain distance away from  neighbouring properties?  If so, what distance would be appropriate? 

What do you think?  What is missing?  Please leave your comment below.


Let's dispel the noise myth.   It's very simple.

Roosters are noisy, chickens are not.  We are not calling for the legalization of roosters.

Roosters are not needed in order for chickens to lay eggs, as councillor Ron Jones discovered when he asked us this question in the Licencing Commission meeting.

Hens are quiet creatures, and make far less noise than dogs or the traffic outside your gate.  They cluck and make small noises, but it's not a sound that would normally be heard in the neighbour's yard.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Why not just buy eggs at the store?

It's a fair question.  Regular eggs certainly are pretty cheap.

However, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

There are several reasons to eat pastured eggs:
  • Pastured, organic eggs are nutritionally superior to the cheap eggs you get in the stores.  Want to know more?  Check out the study Mother Earth News commissioned.
  • Commercial eggs in Ontario are produced indoors.  Even organic or free-run chickens never get to go outside.  I got this information directly from Grey Ridge Eggs, the major producer in our area.  Why is this a problem?  Well, chickens that go outside get to produce more vitamin D, which they produce by being outside in the sun.  They are also creatures that are built for foraging.  They like to peck at the dirt with their beaks.  Indoor chickens can't do this.
  • Currently the only pastured eggs are available from farmers in the county.  However, they are not allowed to sell their ungraded eggs beyond the farm gate.  So obtaining farm eggs involves a lot of driving, which I prefer to avoid.  Some people don't drive at all.  This means they don't even have the option of buying pastured eggs.  That sounds unfair to me.
  • Food security is another concern.  For one thing, all of our commercial eggs in the stores come from outside Essex County.  What would we do if our supply channels were ever broken?  What if a major outbreak of a disease shut down commercial egg production?
  • Animal rights organizations have some serious concerns with factory farmed foods.  If you're interested in learning more, there is a book (available at the library) titled Prisoned Chicken, Poisoned Eggs: A look at the modern poultry industry, with lots of food for thought.  Or you might want to watch the movie, Food, Inc.  See the trailer below, and then, if you'd like to watch more, you can borrow it from Windsor Public Library.
For these reasons,  residents should be allowed to keep their own hens. 


    There are people who are concerned that backyard chickens will cause their neighbourhoods to become infested by vermin.

    The first thing to think about is that some Windsor neighbourhoods already have a rat problem.  So adding chickens to the mix won't start a problem that doesn't already exist.  However there are some things to think about in order to prevent an escalation.

    The first and foremost way to avoid rat problems is to keep the henhouse clear of food that rats like to eat.  (That holds true for yards without chickens too, of course)  Since hens and rats both thrive on the same kinds of food, it's vitally important to remove leftover food at night, and ensure the container used for storing chicken feed is kept tightly shut.

    You also need to keep your coop clean, replacing the straw at regular intervals and removing droppings.

    After dusk, when the hens are in for the night,  shut the coop door to keep predators out.

    The risk of flying predators is eliminated by covering the coop with chicken wire.

    As for predators like foxes, possums, and even dogs on the loose, these can be kept at bay by digging the coop's wire fencing into the ground.

    There are plenty of online resources available to help vermin-proof your yard.  In the same way that responsible dog and cat owners take reasonable precautions to keep their pets safe and and their home environment clean, you can quite easily do the same for your backyard chickens.

    Saturday, November 20, 2010

    Licencing Commission Recommendation

    For the past two years, a group of Windsor residents has been working behind the scenes to get the issue of backyard chickens on the table at City Council.

    First we gathered a lot of information.  We went before the Licencing Commission, which is chaired by Councillor Ron Jones.  They listened to our proposal, asked a number of questions, and said they would get back to us.

    It took almost 9 months, but they finally produced a report with a recommendation that City Council form a working group to examine the matter more fully.  In their words:

    This issue should be debated in an open and transparent manner, allowing for full consultation with residents.

    You can read the background to their recommendation online at this link.  It is really worth looking at, because they did a fair amount of research into the status of the urban chicken movement in Canada, as well as looking at the pros and cons involved.