What are people talking about north of the border? Why, hens of course… and not just any hen; urban hen.
A public discussion has begun in some Montreal neighborhoods regarding the possibility of allowing residents to own and raise hens. Seeing hens on the street or in a neighbor’s backyard in rural areas is not so out of the ordinary. Many of my neighbors have hens and roosters. Some even have ganders, which can add a bit of a challenge to a daily morning walk! But I digress.
In Montreal, small livestock was still part of the urban landscape as late as 1966. At that time, city officials were preparing for the 1967 Universal Exposition. In an effort to present to the world a “civilized, modern and clean city”, Mayor Jean Drapeau installed new regulations preventing residents from having livestock of any size on their property.
Re-emerging concerns for sustainability and frugality seem to be at the root of a new movement to restore small, private farming practices to urban areas. First evidence of this new movement appeared in England and traveled west rather quickly. I have been following the unfolding story on Radio-Canada and have translated and adapted what follows from Cyberpress.ca.
“Le Crapaud”, a Montreal organization whose mission it is to discuss and promote durable land and agricultural management in urban settings, has launched a petition requesting that the City Managers initiate public consultations to examine the possibility of allowing residential, limited chicken farming for eggs on the entire territory. Not all district leaders are open to the idea, but several have already indicated they are very much in favor. Comments in Blogs nationwide point to significant support and Éric Darier, Director of Greenpeace Québec, supports it also.
If all goes well, the first urban hens might appear as early as next spring. “We want to enable this process”, said François Croteau, mayor of the Rosemont district, “but we want to do it properly.”
Here in the United States, Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles have already agreed to the idea. So have Vancouver and Victoria, in Canada. These communities allow their citizens to keep hens and roosters. Furthermore, there is growing evidence that owning a few hens may be a rather ecological gesture for several reasons: Hens contribute to the reduction of waste since they can feed on leftovers; they provide compost for gardens and wholesome, frugal ways for their owners to feed themselves.
There are many things to take into consideration, of course, such as increasing the number of health inspectors and providing proper training, ensuring sanitary conditions prevail and that everything is done in the best interest of the animals, their owners and neighbors.
This raises questions beyond the boundaries of a district or neighborhood. Everything we do has a sort of inevitable domino effect on other aspects of our lives, relations with neighbors and commerce. I confess that I am in favor of such urban endeavors, but also wonder: What of commercial egg producers? What sort of impact does this have on their livelihood? How can both approaches coexist?
One approach might satisfy both private and commercial interests: Community chicken coups. This is already a reality in some communities, but how about a variation on the theme? Commercial farmers could place some hens in the care of a community or individual on a sort of rental or guardianship contract. Better life for the hens, fresh eggs for the community, hands-on experience for the children… a good way to lend a “helping hen”!