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.

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