This past week, Adriano and I attended a meeting at City Hall about urban chickens. After watching Steve Green of Windsor Essex Community Supported Agriculture get a small victory, we asked him if he could provide us with some more information and he happily obliged.

Here is what Steve had to say:

My journey into Food Security issues is a rather jagged one. I don’t think that I could give you a single event. It’s more like a collage of childhood experiences, activism, professional experiences, love of cooking, love of gardening and farming, concern for our world and planet, and, of course, a love of fresh food to eat- which, for me, includes eggs. In fact, some of my early memories were collecting eggs on a small farm. I loved that sense of discovery and wonderment. And it beat picking potato bugs off the row upon row of potato plants.

In a bold effort to have more control over my own food supply in 2008 started planning out how we could cooperatively grow our own food. In 2009, Windsor Essex Community Supported Agriculture was born, and we ate like kings and queens. It’s been great creating a diverse community of adults and children who are working, learning, laughing and eating their way to a more local, sustainable lifestyle. We began to feel like we were regaining control over some of our breadbasket!

In 2009, I began investigating what it would take to make changes to the current City of Windsor bylaw preventing the keeping of fowl on our properties, which included, unfortunately, the keeping of hens. No hens, no eggs. In October 2009, I sent a letter to City of Windsor council outlining the benefits of allowing for Urban chickens. It was a well-researched  and balanced document stating the pros and cons of such a political manoeuvre. Personally, I felt like it would have been too big of a pill for our ‘not so progressive’ council to swallow to simply approve a change in the bylaw, so I requested the formation of a Working Committee to study and make recommendations to City Council that would include an equal number of city planners and concerned citizens. As it happened, the issue became a bit of a ‘joke’ for some council members, with some questioning whether this was a serious request. In my letter to council I pointed out some of the key benefits to our community:

  • Chickens can provide healthy, pesticide free eggs
  • We can reduction of weekly food bills
  • We can reduction of green house gases through reduction in food transport costs
  • Chickens consume kitchen waste, reducing municipal waste problems
  • Chickens produce great compost for the garden
  • Chickens are a great way to teach kids about food sources, hands-on
  • Chickens make great pets, for big kids and little kids alike
  • The path to global environmental sustainability begins with local initiatives and urban chickens are one of those
  • Chickens kept in back yards generally living in much more humane conditions than their batter cage industrial chicken counterparts

Both historically and internationally, chickens are or have been a normal part of urban living.  Citizens want access to safe and healthy food and many are realizing the importance of being more involved in their own food production.  Windsor and Essex need to examine food production in their region and food shed as the supply chains get more complicated, oil price volatility continues, and there is greater public concern regarding greenhouse gas emissions and environmental sustainability. Urban chicken production can be a part of the solution to these problems. Nothing humorous in that, I thought.

The matter was then referred on to the Licensing Committee of Windsor. A letter of invitation was sent and I attended, along with a number of concerned citizens, and I was invited to present and answer questions regarding the cons of having Urban Chickens. Notice, no one questioned the pros. I am assuming that is because they are ‘self-evident’ to all of us! The usual concerns were brought up, based on the what the ‘average’ voting ratepayer may be concerned about: coop restrictions, number of hens, odour or uncared fore yards, rats eating chicken feed, noise, bylaw enforcement, etc. The same concerns one would have for having any type of animal on their yard.

Finding the answers satisfactory, for now, the councillors (Postma, Halberstat, Jones) and the Licensing Committee members unanimously considered the request for a working committee to be established to be a reasonable and well thought out idea. The Licensing commission was concerned that it would mean more work for them. Needless to say, the recommendation to form this committee will now be submitted for an agenda item, once again, to the City Council meeting, hopefully in the near future. I’m hoping for a great show of support from city residents on that evening.

Just about every Urban Farmer magazine I read these days writes about urban chicken keeping. It is definitely a hot topic right now around North American cities and towns. The rest of the world never stopped. As local food activists, we need to keep working in our own municipality and across the country to create local change in response to global issues of food security and safety.  Localizing food production reconnects people with the natural world in their urban environments and can prove as valuable source of education as it is of food.  Many cities have had very successful experiences with urban hens – from large cities Like New York City and Chicago, where chickens have always been permitted, to small towns throughout the United States and Canada. Let’s make Windsor one of these cities.

I’m hoping that readers will consider being a part of this movement for change in Windsor, take ownership of their own food system, be a part of their municipal matters, whether you agree or disagree with this movement, and help shape Windsor into what we want it to be now, and in the future. If we don’t, we’ll simply end up with what our predecessors gave us, big business and the politicians want us to have, which, in my opinion, rarely matches what we, the common citizen, wants their city to look and act like.

See you in the Council chambers!