November 16, 2010

It's Ok to Be Chicken, But Let's Keep Our Heads On.

The last time Law & Leg discussed backyard chickens in Sacramento, concerns about avian flu were a key sticking point. So it will be very interesting to hear from Dr. Glennah Trochet, the County of Sacramento Public Health Officer this afternoon, beginning after 3pm at council chambers in city hall.

I asked Christine Heinrichs, the environmental journalist and author of "How to Raise Chickens" and "How to Raise Poultry" about avian flu. Apparently, avian flu comes in 2 broad categories: Low and High Pathogenic. Crossover of highly pathogenic avian flu to the human population is rare, and usually happens near factory farms, which Wendell Berry calls "disease-breeding operations." Moreover, the US Geological Survey has yet to find any bird flu on this continent, even the low-pathogenic kind, after having tested 326,000 migratory birds between 2005 and 2008.

She quoted Bruce Levin, a biology professor at Emory University, "In the more than 15 years since it was first recognized, this bird flu virus has yet to cause very much mortality in humans or evolve to be readily transmitted between people."

The dangers of endemic strains of influenza are much higher; we would mostly be better off staying away from the mall and in the backyard with our chickens, ducks, pigeons, and other enthusiastic pest-control assistants.

So ask the Law & Leg Committee to act on Agenda Item #4 by directing staff to draft a backyard chicken ordinance for council discussion.

As for regular old flu (presumably including low-pathogenic avian flu if it ever gets here), Christine reports that public health research has discerned 4 major differences between our understanding of it now and in 1918:
We know a virus is responsible.
We have vaccines.
We have antiviral medications to mitigate the flu and discourage transmission
We have antibiotics and/or vaccines to address the secondary bacterial infections which appear to be the proximate cause of most flu deaths.

October 17, 2010

Is Economics Really the Dismal Science After All?

Reportedly, Japan's economy has lost heart. Years of monetary contraction have left people fearing to risk, borrow, invest or build much of anything.

However, the reporter may have overlooked new green sprouts growing out of the decay of winter, which reliably yields to the fertility of spring.

But what's the real problem? There's no good mechanism in place for the monetary system to re-adjust to fit the economy again.

It's time to revive an ancient custom, developed by people who are widely reputed to understand financial affairs exceedingly well, probably because their acquaintance with money's behavior is so ancient. Another ethnic group whose economic aptitude is the equal of any lacks, unfortunately, the corrective religious custom that the Japanese - and any city, state or country that is in the same pickle - could profit from just now.

October 12, 2010

Thinking Outside of the Box on Green Jobs

This morning, the Bee warned us that green job growth isn't going to save the economy anytime soon. But there are many many more kinds of green jobs than just "work to install solar panels and build electricity-powered cars."

And there are more green jobs than I listed 2-plus years ago, such as:

Rural farming
Graywater system design & installation
Rainwater storage system design & installation
Greenhouse design, manufacturing & installation
Rainwater tank design & manufacturing
Mulch broker
Bicycle-power design & manufacturing
Redesign of electric appliances to be manual, such as sewing machines and washers
Caretaker for oldsters who have an extra room and need help

So rest assured that the potential growth of green jobs, that minimize our energy used for meeting our needs for water, food, and warmth, is much greater than realized by those still thinking inside the box of conventional technologies.

October 5, 2010

Chickens & Other Forms of Urban Farming

The staff report for today's city council law & legislation committee discussion of urban chickens mentions chickens’ pest control potential. Turning mosquitoes and ticks into eggs seems like a win-win. But dandelions are extremely nutritious and should not be considered a weed when it’s actually lawns that are highly unsustainable and harmful as typically managed.

Chickens are so effective at turning kitchen scraps to eggs that “The municipality of Deist in Flanders, Belgium, gave 2,000 households a gift of three chickens each as an economic solution to the costly problem of recycling biodegradable trash. A chicken can consume approximately nine pounds of kitchen garbage a month. The encouragement of urban animal husbandry can help erase the artificial barriers between the urban (non-agricultural) and the rural (agricultural). Additionally, increased composting can also help to diminish waste.”

Concerns about noise seem very biased, since the city never takes any action to reduce nuisance noise from leafblowers and viciously loud motorcycles. I would much rather have a rooster next door than either of these two widespread urban hazards.

Slaughtering, like most things, depends on whether or not you are doing it right. While it may be premature for this ordinance revision, it should be kept on the back burner.

Concerns about complaints and staffing are valid. The financial stresses we all face can be reduced by becoming more ‘Greenwise’ and increasing local self-sufficiency and sustainability. Perhaps neighborhood associations can help keep things on an even keel. Another possibility would be a sort of streamlined standardized variance process for prospective urban farmers.

There are other general helpful actions the committee can consider for Sacramento.

Reconsider all the unlawful animals listed in ordinance section 9.44.340. Currently, “it is unlawful to keep, harbor, or maintain any bovine animal, horse, mule, burro, sheep, goat, chicken, duck, turkey, goose or other domestic livestock or poultry on any parcel of property located in the city.”

Given the fact that most of these are smaller than the largest dogs which are considered completely okay, they should all be reconsidered on their merits (as well as disadvantages). There are a variety of miniature breeds of larger animals. The importance of size can be seen in 9.44.320 which allows swine such as the pot-bellied pig. It may also be appropriate to review 9.44.710 and include methods of animal attack in addition to biting.

Each species has its own general personality, which may require specific requirements tailored to successful management of that particular animal. Thus, the research required to define success for each species can be taken sequentially, with chickens serving as the case study for a process that should be repeated. Personally, after creating the proper space for urban chickens, I would proceed to consider ducks, geese, goats, sheep, turkeys, and miniature burros and cows.

Please note that the poop of carnivores such as cats and dogs is more likely to be a problem than that of vegetarians, all other things (such as amount) being equal. I recently completed a Permaculture Design Certificate, and one of the key principles I learned was about ecological diversity. It is extremely convenient that a biologically healthy environment has adapted to dealing with poop by eons of evolution. By recreating the proper conditions, poop can be managed much better than at present, when it usually ends up in wastewater or landfill where its fertility is not just wasted but transformed into pollution.

Create a new zoning category for urban agriculture. An analogy for this would be the Single-Family Alternative Zone, which was also designed to support Sacramentans’ economic welfare, by allowing more residential diversity.

Supporting more diversity in urban agriculture will both assist the many Sacramentans whose backs are now to the wall, economically, and make Sacramento more sustainable over the long term as petroleum-based modes of transportation all become more problematic.

Currently, Sacramentans living in residentially zoned neighborhoods are unable to sell excess produce at a standard farmers market. An alternative urban agriculture zoning could offer additional economic support now and in the future.

October 1, 2010

Chickens & The City Council

Next Tuesday afternoon, the city council's law & legislation committee will hear a staff report about the pros & cons of backyard chickens. The committee will consider whether to ask staff to draft a proposed ordinance for the council to consider.
If you would like Sacramentans to have access to the increased food security that backyard chickens offer, you can ask the committee to proceed with a draft ordinance, either online (click on "eComment") or in person on Tuesday.
If you have any suggestions about how to manage backyard chickens so as to ensure a peaceful and pleasant neighborhood, please share them with the committee. Although some residents may have concerns about nuisance or blight, the fact that Fair Oaks residents have been living harmoniously with free-roaming chickens for many years suggests that such concerns are unfounded.

September 28, 2010

What I Learned On My Summer Vacation

Well, it's true that summer started a long time after my last post. But my mother passed away February 24, and after that I spent most of April rearranging my house making room for my new roommate who looks after things when I am gone.
I left in May to spend most of the summer near Eugene, Oregon, at Lost Valley Educational Center, taking their three key courses, Permaculture Design, Eco-Building, and Community/Eco-village Design. And to top it all off, I got to spend the summer living in community, sharing meals, etc., after 22 years of living alone. I had a wonderful time.
What did I learn about permaculture? First, permaculture isn't just about edible gardening, it's also about self-winding houses that blend into the local biology rather than contradicting it like a crewcut green lawn in California. Rainwater storage, graywater irrigation, composting privies, passive solar climate control, solar hot water, greenhouses, and food forests are key green technologies for sustainable housing.
At a deeper, more philosophical level, 12 permaculture principles have been formalized. They reflect the way biology operates, as opposed to the way engines and machines operate. The machine metaphor permeates our culture, and is reflected in unconscious assumptions. Contrasting the philosophies of life and mechanism makes old assumptions conscious and offers a basic way to understand a new way of thinking. Thinking like a tree, perhaps.
Eco-building methods are diverse, including post & beam and other timber framing, straw bale, adobe, and a few others. Local climate and materials determine what makes the most sense.
Typical eco-villages are also intentional communities of people who want to live an alternative lifestyle. Many villagers are interested in food security and relocalization. But when you didn't grow up together there's lots of potential for conflicting customs or expectations, so fair and effective self-governance processes are crucial, especially when you are starting from scratch.
So as you can imagine I learned a lot. I really had a wonderful summer out in the country - once it stopped raining, that is.

February 9, 2010

Is Competition Sustainable?

I keep hearing that we need to be more competitive to make it in the global economy, but I can't believe the multinational corporations that dominate the global and industrialized economies will ever let anyone else win.
Plus which, I've been reading some great stuff about how we are at least as cooperative by nature as we may be competitive. What if Nature Herself were cooperative too?
Rebecca Solnit's book "A Paradise Built In Hell" describes how disasters seem to attract lots of ordinary people who just pitch right in the start cooperating to help in whatever ways make sense. In fact, it turns out that often official disaster relief and security actually get in the way and make things worse by imposing their bureaucratic and hierarchical plans on what is already spontaneously underway, as was seen not just after Katrina but after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
"Elite panic" is behind official efforts to control the situation, whether it is caused by fear of being unnecessary or fear of vengeance by the have-nots. Elite panic is why people who are taking necessities from stores after a disaster are seen as looting if black and as requisitioning if white, as happened in New Orleans and Haiti.
I've also been reading about Open Space Technology, guidelines from originator Harrison Owen. He shares some of his philosophy about jobs, a view that's very relevant to economic competitiveness.
"After all, if we did only what we cared to do, not much would get done. Or would it? Isn't it true that jobs done by people who don't care are not worth much? Is it not also true that people who care greatly accomplish incredible things? And fortunately, there are a lot of different people who care about a lot of different things, which means there is a high likelihood that the majority of things needing to be taken care of will be taken care of--by someone who cares."
What if we could all, worldwide, have economies where we took on the tasks we care about the most? We can all have work that matters, if we care about doing first what matters most.
And we can still compete--with ourselves, to just keep improving.

Dear readers, please ignore the comment below which it turns out leads to porn-spam. I will delete it as soon as I figure out how.

January 19, 2010

Ban Styrofoam & Be A World-Class City!

Seattle did it a year ago, and we can too. Check out this chart of replacement products.

And we could also start charging by weight or volume for regular garbage, just as Seattle does for businesses. That would be a really effective way to reduce tipping fees.