Friday, March 22, 2013

Are Collectives the way to go?

We believe every resident should be allowed to decide for themselves whether they want to own backyard hens, in exactly the same way Windsorites are entitled to decide for themselves whether to take on a dog (or three), a cat (or four), or even up to 80 pigeons.

However, we are also pragmatic.  It takes time to change bylaws.  While we are confident we will one day see hens return to Windsor, it won't happen overnight.  Did you know that 2012 was the year of the cooperative?  When we started our "clucktive" in 2011, we were ahead of the curve!

For some people, it might be a good option to join a cooperative that raises hens to produce free range eggs.  It has certain advantages:
  • It's an excellent place to start if you're not sure to what extent you want to commit yourself
  • It's a good place to learn the basics, especially if there are other members with more experience
  • Maybe you live in an apartment, or your property is otherwise unsuitable for a backyard coop
  • It can be more cost effective, because of the economies of operating on a larger scale
  • Sharing the responsibility of owning hens means you have more flexibility, for example, it can be easier to get away on weekends and vacations if there is someone else to cover coop duties during that time
  • The sense of community you can get from knowing other like-minded families is phenomenal.

As with all good things, there are also a couple of potential disadvantages:
  • A collaborative coop is likely to be larger than a backyard one, and will likely have more hens.  You may discover it's is not quite as idyllic as you imagined.
  • When it's your turn, you will likely have more work to do on your day.  There will be more poop to clean out, and more feed and water to supply.  This might prove challenging for people with disabilities
  • Organizing a collaborative involves an element of trust.  You would have to trust that each member does their share of the work, and you have to trust the person assigned to control the finances
  • You have to be prepared to make group decisions, and this could result in some members having to go along with opinions that they don't fully agree with.  For example, the group has to decide what kind of feed to purchase, and what to do if hens become sick.
  • Your cooperative might not be as close to your house as you would like it to be.  If it is in a remote area, you might have to consider security arrangements that wouldn't be an issue in your backyard.

For a city like Windsor, where urban chickens are not currently allowed, we think urban hen collaboratives would be a great first step.  Cooperatives of all kinds are a growing trend at the moment.   It's a model that works for some people, and it would be a good way for Windsor to take some first steps towards joining the growing urban ag movement that is sweeping through North America.

Chicken Collective on CBC

The CBC has picked up the story of urban chickens in the Windsor area today, and it is interesting to see how it has been framed.

They looked at it from a food security point of view, which is less sensational than what we saw two years ago.  Times have changed.   Many more people have started to think more seriously about where their food comes from.  Seeing frequent food recalls and contamination scares made many people want more insight into what goes on behind farm doors.  And since those doors are firmly locked from the public's eye, there are ever more people who want to take control over their food supply themselves.

Rather than eschewing eggs completely, many of us want to eat only free range eggs:  for their nutritional superiority, as well as the fact that free range hens get to live like nature intended them to.

When you buy eggs in the grocery store, the best you can hope for are eggs from free run chickens.

No eggs sold in our local grocery stores come from hens that go outside or that scratch in the ground.

It is most likely that all of them have been debeaked.

The CBC story picked up the fact that if you don't have a car, you cannot get eggs from free range chickens.  This means that low income people have a more limited range of choices when it comes to ethical eating.

While our goal is still to overturn the bylaw that prohibits the raising of poultry in the city, our experience with the collective has shown us that this is another effective way of keeping free range chickens.  There are advantages and disadvantages to both, which we will discuss in the next post.

In the meanwhile, if you didn't see the story earlier today, you can read it on the CBC website here.

The video clip is at the 6.40 min mark on the March 22 News at Six:

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The Story of an Egg

Watch 2013 Festival | The Story of an Egg on PBS. See more from PBS Online Film Festival.