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A Barnyard in Your Backyard

Chickens, goats, rabbits and honey bees are in the news these days. Recently USA Today featured a story about miniature goats, and just this week the City of New York determined that the ban on keeping bees in the City should be lifted as they pose little or no health risk.

Urban animals were commonplace up until the 1950’s and 60’s when the suburbs grew in popularity and the age of happy motoring, shiny green lawns and a hidden, increasingly mechanized and industrialized food supply lulled us into a false sense of security and happiness. We are facing the impacts of these trends in obesity rates, salmonella poisoning and a disconnect from our food supply.

The rural city of 7,500 that we live in, Castlegar BC, ironically the place where the Russian immigrants known as the Dukhobors created a thriving community through farming and local produce, has an animal control bylaw that prohibits just about every animal other than a cat or dog in residential zones. Additionally, it is against the zoning bylaw to grow crops in residential areas.

I’ve written about this before, you can find a bunch of the posts here. Anyway, on with some stories of forward thinking municipalities who are working seriously on food security and community sustainability…

Recent Goat News

The Carbondale, Ill., Planning Commission was debating this month whether to allow residents to keep chickens when Priscilla Pimentel, a member of the city’s Sustainability Commission, added goats to the mix.

“If you can have a 250-pound dog in town, why not a miniature goat that can produce milk?” she says. “It’s just common sense.” The Planning Commission hasn’t made a recommendation yet.

Read More: USA Today – Goat Fans, Cities butting heads

Recent Chicken News

In Ottawa:

Lyssa Rhodes, who lives in the suburb of Kanata, said it’s a homeowner’s political right to have chickens in their backyard.

“I just feel that as a citizen, we should have a right to knowing where our food is and having our right to our own food, healthy food that is chemical free,” Rhodes told CBC News Monday.

She isn’t the only one who feels that way — an online petition demanding the city allow chickens to be raised in the municipality has been signed by 150 people. A Facebook page devoted to the issue has nearly 200 members.

Read more: CBC – Ottawa Urban Chickens

In Calgary:

A pilot program that would temporarily allow backyard coops is in the works after city bylaw boss Bill Bruce held a summit earlier this week with Calgary Liberated Urban Chick Klub (CLUCK) president Paul Hughes, who last month was handed a court summons for illegally keeping poultry. Hughes, who recently announced his intentions to run for mayor in October’s civic election, said Calgary is seeing a growing urban agriculture movement that won’t stand for being hen-pecked by city bureaucrats.

“The city is aware there is a massively growing trend towards urban food production and we’re going to keep going with it,” he said. “We’ve got a good poker hand and if the city is going to block urban agriculture, that’s going to be some bad optics.”

Raising chickens within large centres is becoming a common practise in cities like Vancouver and New York as organic food lovers harvest daily eggs alongside urban vegetable gardens.

Read More: Calgary Sun -Urban chicken-keepers cry fowl, win reprieve

Recent Rabbit News

Rabbits have a much smaller carbon footprint than other animals because they convert calories into pounds more efficiently. According to Slow Food USA, “Rabbit can produce six pounds of meat on the same amount of feed and water it takes a cow to produce just one pound.”

Read more: Good Magazine – Backyard Bunnies Are the New Urban Chickens

Recent Bee News

New York City is among the few jurisdictions in the country that deem beekeeping illegal, lumping the honeybee together with hyenas, tarantulas, cobras, dingoes and other animals considered too dangerous or venomous for city life. But the honeybee’s bad rap — and the days of urban beekeepers being outlaws — may soon be over.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s board will take up the issue of amending the health code to allow residents to keep hives of Apis mellifera, the common, nonaggressive honeybee. Health department officials said the change was being considered after research showed that the reports of bee stings in the city were minimal and that honeybees did not pose a public health threat.

The officials were also prodded by beekeepers who, in a petition and at a public hearing last month, argued that their hives promoted sustainable agriculture in the city.

Read More: NYTimes -Bees in the City? New York May Let the Hives Come Out of Hiding

See a video of the bee hives on the new Vancouver Convention Centre below.

Check your local zoning and animal control bylaws to see what is allowed and what isn’t. The production of local food has been taken away from us as a right, replaced by frozen pizza pops and fast food joints. There are people right across North America who are not scared of a bit of work and want some control over the food they eat, and these people are either defying the bylaws or petitioning for change, sometimes they are doing both.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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