Saturday, October 30, 2010

Keeping chickens in Sacramento

© 2010 Joshua Stark

Well, the Sacramento Bee didn't accept my op-ed offering over the City of Sacramento's backwards concerns over urban chickens.  I thought, however, that you all might be interested in it.  By the way, the Sacramento City Council will be voting on this at their next meeting, so if you are interested, contact your councilmember.

Without further ado, my op-ed:

Every six weeks or so, you may find me in line at the feed store in East Sacramento, buying a 50 lb. bag of pellets and maybe a straw bale.  I might be there next to a lady with a dog in a sweater, under her arm.  Perhaps behind me will be someone with an overeager boxer, or a man with a parrot on his shoulder.  A quick calculation of my costs makes me happy to be there because my pets are happy, too.  More importantly, they make themselves useful in other ways, by eating pests and turning them into eggs at less than $2/doz.  What else do their pets do?

My first year raising backyard ducks (that’s right, ducks), I’ve begun a way of life that is quickly regaining popularity across the country: raising animals that also provide food.  People hoping to lower their carbon footprint, eat more local and seasonally appropriate foods, ensure the welfare of the animals that provide some of their meals, and take responsibility for their impacts have realized the myriad benefits of backyard flocks to nutrition, soil, and their lives.  Meanwhile, communities still well rooted in their cultures’ food traditions have long recognized the value and beauty of raising a few animals that provide more than eye candy and flout noise ordinances with impunity.

But, our legal system evolves slowly, and although that's usually a good thing, many communities now find themselves stuck in early- and mid-20th Century city ordinances that tried to strictly delineate rural, suburban, and urban living. Sacramento the Cow Town, for example, doesn't allow backyard chicken keeping, much less actual cows.  Luckily, there is a ray of hope:  This November, after postponing its decision, the Sacramento City Council will again consider a change in its ordinances to allow people to keep birds that do more than make a lot of noise and look cute, but actually produce local food.  Many good folks around Sacramento are now trying to allay their city council's fear of chickens, that they may keep birds that also lay eggs for food. 

Lucky for me, I live in the more civilized West Sacramento, over the river and in the 21st century. While the once-chic Capitol City remains stuck in the Tyson Age, where all meat and animal products must come from hundreds of miles away, double-sealed and processed so as to eliminate any living thing's desire to eat it, West Sacramento follows the progressive path, supporting local food, sustainability, cultural traditions and community enterprise. 

What the Sacramento City Council can realize is that, not only do their adjacent, civilized communities like West Sacramento allow backyard poultry, such holes-in-the-wall as San Francisco, Denver, and Portland allow laying hens.  If Sacramento can’t be as hip as West Sacramento, it should at least strive to be as accommodating as Portland.
Times change.  In the previous century, our society mirrored industrial processes and workplaces, with compartmentalization and specialization as norms.  From school schedules to city planning, we attempted to separate every aspect of our lives into neat, little boxes.  But, we learned that boxes are anathema, and interconnectedness vital, to active, living organisms, ourselves included.  From this understanding, and from a broader acceptance of diverse traditions and cultures, many communities began to understand the importance of food, its production and impacts.  

So now comes the time to change laws in those backward podunks still not recognizing the value of local foods and animals to a community’s health, wealth, well-being, and future. 

A city's acceptance of local food, diverse cultural traditions, and self-reliance among its residents are the new symbols of progress. After many years trying to sterilize our urban environs, and with the results being super-resistant bacteria, obesity, and instilling an unnatural fear of the outdoors in our children, this one small step is just what we need.

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