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Hens in the city

May 20, 2011

An ordinance allowing the keeping of hens in city limits was put before the Public Safety Committee (of the Common Council) last Thursday, May 12. However, despite endorsement by 4 alderpersons and the city health department, the Committee delayed any action, claiming they needed more information. Fine. But the hen ordinance goes before the Committee again on Tuesday, May 24, this time for keeps. Hopefully those council members uncertain can do their homework before the meeting (this is, sort of, their job?). There are many simple reasons to support this ordinance and many reasons not to oppose it. The organization behind this ordinance, Cream City Hens, has thoughtfully addressed many of the common concerns about urban chicken keeping (my personal favorite: the ordinance allows hens only, which, unlike roosters, do not crow; of course, hens are not entirely silent, but “part of living in the city is close quarters with a lot of people and their pets. Noise happens.”). Naturally, they also describe the various benefits of urban chicken keeping (food security, anyone?).

I feel about this ordinance much like I feel about urban vacant lot community gardens: the benefits vastly outweigh the possible detriments, and allowing these activities provides a simple (and cheap) solution to many of the problems that the city and other organizations are actively trying to solve (e.g. poverty, food insecurity, environmental degradation). With the hen ordinance, I have wondered whether perhaps this is not an issue worth devoting time and energy, that perhaps it is an inconsequential matter. Yet, after considering how this could substantially impact urban residents (i.e., the value of home-raised eggs might significantly outweigh the value of a few pounds of home-raised leafy greens) and allow our city to actually be a haven of urban agriculture, it seems important indeed. So, I’m going to the hearing on Tuesday, to show my support.

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