Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Meet the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council!

(Thanks to Katherine Cornwell at the Department of Environmental Health for this information.)

When and why did Denver form a Sustainable Food Policy Council?
In October 2010, Mayor Hickenlooper formed Denver’s Sustainable Food Policy Council. The City submitted an application to the US Department of Agriculture through the Food and Nutrition Service’s Hunger-Free Communities program. The application criteria for this grant provided the impetus to form the Denver Sustainable Food Policy Council. Regardless of whether we receive funding through this program, we recognize that a need exists for a food policy council. The Council will act as an advisory entity to the City on matters of food policy and programs and will help raise awareness in the community about the issues and challenges with our food system. The SFPC is comprised of community leaders working across the food system from farmers to restaurant owners to food justice advocates (see below for a complete list of members).

Why should I be concerned about food?
Less than 1% of the food that is consumed in the metro-region is produced within Colorado. Annually, we do not capture the $5.7 billion in economic activity that a robust local food production sector could generate. We have a short growing season. Denver leaves $30-$40 million dollars in unclaimed food stamp benefits on the table (enough to support 2-3 grocery stores) each year, with that number growing annually. We are raising the first generation of children with a shorter life expectancy than their parents due to obesity and a lack of physical activity. These are just a few of the reasons why we need your help. It is time for Denver to actively grow our food system to be more resilient, economically viable and focused on nourishing all of our citizens.

What is the purpose of the Sustainable Food Policy Council?
The purpose of the Sustainable Food Policy Council is to:
1. Increase food production in the City & County of Denver.
2. Enhance the food security of all Denver residents.
3. Improve access to locally produced food.
4. Improve the economic viability of urban agriculture.
5. Recognize and enhance the role of the food and agriculture system in conserving and regenerating Denver’s
natural resources and environment.
6. Improve health for all Denver’s residents.
7. Build awareness about the community impacts of local, healthy food access and encourage participation in
Denver’s local food system.

When does the Sustainable Food Policy Council meet?
The Sustainable Food Policy Council meets on the third Wednesday of each month from 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.

If I want to learn more about the Sustainable Food Policy Council, who should I contact?
To learn more about the Sustainable Food Policy Council, contact:
Katherine K. Cornwell, LEED-AP
Healthy Eating Active Living Program Manager
200 W. 14th Ave, Suite 210
Denver, CO 80204

Council Members:
Michael Buchenau - Denver Urban Gardens, Executive Director
Andy Grant - Grant Family Farms CSA, Farmer/Owner
Eric Kornacki - Revision International, Executive Director
Sundari Kraft - Heirloom Gardens/Sustainable Food Denver, Farmer/Owner (Co-Chair)
John Leevers - Leevers Supermarkets, CEO
Leo Lesh - Denver Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services, Executive Director of Enterprise Management
Pete Marczyk - Marczyk Fine Foods, CEO
Dana Miller - Transition Denver/Grow Local Colorado, Executive Director
Aaron Miripol - Urban Land Conservancy Executive Director
Chris Parr - Denver Housing Authority, Director of Real Estate Development
Nigel Perrymond - Harvesting True Growth, Executive Director
Ceyl Prinster - Colorado Enterprise Fund, President & CEO
Teri Rippeto - Potager Restaurant & Wine Bar, Chef/Owner
Lisa Rogers - Feed Denver, Executive Director
Adam Schlegel – Snooze AM Eatery, Consiglieri
Wade Shelton - Trust for Public Land, Project Manager
Susan Shepherd - Queen City Urban Farms, Farmer/Owner
Krista Roberts - Slow Food Denver, Executive Director
Adam Tsai – University of Colorado Division of General Internal Medicine & Center for Human Nutrition, Physician (Co-Chair)
Todd Stevenson - In Season Local Market, CEO
Paul Tamburello – GrowHaus, Owner
Lisa Walvoord - LiveWell Colorado, Vice President of Policy
Alexis Weightman - Colorado Health Foundation, Senior Public Policy Officer

Ex-Officio Team:
Tina Axelrad - Department of Community Planning & Development, Principal City Planner
Devon Buckels – Department of Parks & Recreation, Senior City Planner
Rachel Cleaves - Colorado Center for Community Development at UC-Denver, LiveWell Westwood Coordinator
Katherine Cornwell - Department of Environmental Health, Healthy Eating Active Living Program Manager
Michael Miera - Office of Economic Development, Community Development Specialist
Susan Motika - Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (Colorado Physical Activity and Nutrition Program), State Food Policy Coordinator
Michelle Pyle – Department of Community Planning & Development, Associate City Planner
Shannon Spurlock – Denver Urban Gardens, Community Initiatives Coordinator
Jennifer Weiczoreck - Denver Public Health, Public Health Planner

Waiting Patiently

Milking time is a big deal in our back yard. It's the favorite time of day for all of the animals. The goats love it, because they get their special goat grain while they're on the milking stand. The chickens love it, because they get to run around in the back garden and scratch for worms and bugs.

But, here's the catch about milking time -- it requires patience. Particularly if you're the younger, non-dominant goat. Herd management rules state that the alpha goat should always be milked first. So, that's how we do it at our house, but it does mean that our youngest goat (Peaberry) has to be soooo patient to wait for her turn on the milking stand. It's not easy!

Dasha (our alpha goat) enjoying her snack while she's getting milked.

Peaberry watching from a distance, at first...

Coming around the front of the stand to check out the grain.

"Is it my turn yet?"

"Are you almost done?"

Dasha's milking is finished, and Peaberry wants her to stop dilly-dallying.

"My turn!!"

"Ahhh... yummy goat treats."

(Many thanks to Brian Kraft Photography for the photos.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

Draft Outline of New Food-Producing Animals Ordinance

To read the actual draft ordinance language -- updated from the outline! -- click here.

If you'd like to read a version of the draft outline that is formatted nicely into a chart (the version created by Community Planning and Development) click on this link.

Updated on 1/27/11. Updated information is in red.

We are pleased to share with you the draft outline for a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance for Denver. It was prepared as a collaborative effort with Community Planning and Development (zoning), the Department of Environmental Health (animal control), and the City Attorney's office.
As part of the process for creating this draft, the team compiled detailed information on successful FPA ordinances in other major cities across the country, as well as our neighboring cities along the Front Range. The group also looked at an analysis of the impact of chicken ordinances on cities, as part of a study done through De Paul university.

The most important thing to convey about this draft is that it's just what the name implies. It's not in any way final. It's a proposal, which is subject to change. However, I think it's a great starting point for a new FPA ordinance for Denver.

This draft outline proposes the keeping of a limited number of FPAs (8 female fowl, 2 dwarf dairy goats) without requiring a permit. However, just as was done when Denver enacted its beekeeping ordinance, there are some guidelines for keeping the animals. Significant care was taken to be sure that the guidelines were reasonable, and would not prevent those with even a modest amount of yard from raising FPAs.

The guidelines exist for 3 purposes:
- To require the keeping of the animals in a way that supports their basic welfare
- To mitigate the potential impact of the animals on the surrounding neighborhood
- To (hopefully) address the fears of anyone who would oppose this ordinance. For example, some people oppose the idea of chickens in the city by saying "People will be keeping chickens on balconies! People will be keeping chickens in apartments!" etc. The guidelines exist to provide a common-sense answer to those kinds of concerns.

Please see below for the draft outline. The changes are divided into two sections. The first are the changes to Denver's Zoning Code, and the second are changes to the Animal Code. The elements in blue are proposed changes. The italic green writing are comments from Sustainable Food Denver on the draft outline.

Food Producing Animals in the City of Denver
Proposed Ordinance Changes
Prepared by Community Planning and Development Department, Department of Environmental Health (Animal Control), and the City Attorney’s Office for Councilmember Chris Nevitt and the Mayor’s Sustainable Food Policy Council. This document is a draft for public review and discussion. Provisions outlined below remain subject to change as public review continues.


Proposed ordinance changes to the Denver Zoning Code and the Animal Code (D.M.C., Chapter 8) to change the current allowances for Food Producing Animals (FPAs). Food Producing Animals include fowl (chickens, ducks) that produce eggs, and dwarf goats that produce milk.

Proposed Amendment to the Denver Zoning Code

Intent of Amendment:
Promote the keeping of Food Producing Animals and concurrent food access and food security benefits, where most appropriate, while assuring compatibility with existing land uses and minimization of any adverse impacts on neighboring properties or neighborhood character.

Purpose for Amendment:
Denver currently allows FPAs in all zone districts as an accessory (secondary) use to a primary residential use. Before Denver residents may keep FPAs, they must submit an application to the city for a Zoning Permit with Informational Notice (“ZPIN”). The process for granting a ZPIN includes providing written notice to registered neighborhood organizations, as well as posting a sign on the subject property informing the public that a permit has been requested, and inviting comment. In addition to providing the standard ZPIN notice just described, an applicant wanting to keep Food Producing Animals must also notify abutting homeowners and request letters of support. The Denver Zoning Administrator considers the ZPIN application and all public comments, and decides whether to approve, approve with conditions, or deny the permit application.

The proposed Denver Zoning Code amendment would:

1. Change the zoning review process for keeping Food Producing Animals by allowing a set number and type of FPAs without a ZPIN process, similarly to how Denver allows its residents to keep dogs, cats, and domestic honeybees.
     a. Keeping FPAs would, as with domestic honeybees, be subject to specific standards to avoid any potential impacts on neighboring properties.
     b. Just as with keeping of other animals, if a resident does not follow the required zoning standards (typically discovered after a complaint is made to the city), the City can issue a notice of violation and work with the resident to correct any problems. If problems are not timely corrected, the City may take more formal action to abate the problem through municipal court.

2. Allow FPAs to be kept not only on residential properties, but also on properties occupied by civic or institutional users, such as schools or churches, or occupied by restaurants.

Summary of Denver Zoning Code Amendment

Allowed or Not Allowed

Expressly list specific types of FPAs allowed as an accessory use:
1. Maximum of 8 chickens/ducks (no roosters) per zone lot.
2. Maximum 2 dwarf goats and any number of their offspring younger than 6 months, per zone lot. No intact male dwarf goat older than 6 weeks may be kept on the zone lot.

Male animals are prohibited primarily to minimize noise and odor impacts. “Dwarf goats” will be defined to allow only Nigerian Dwarf or African Pygmy species (commonly raised for their milk).

Maintain the current use allowance and ZPIN review process for any FPAs not listed above and applications to keep more than the maximum number specified. See DZC, Section 11.8.6.B.

Type of Use/Where Allowed

Allow keeping FPAs as accessory use to the following primary uses in all zones (note: no change to primary “animal husbandry” use allowed in certain Industrial and Open Space zone districts):
1. Residential Uses
2. Civic/Institutional Uses
This includes schools, churches, and nursing homes.
3. Urban Gardens and Greenhouse Uses
4. Restaurants (Eating & Drinking Establishments)

Zoning Review Process

For the specific FPA types listed above, and provided the maximum numbers are not exceeded:
1. No zoning permit required
2. No public notice required
This is a critical part of the proposed changes -- you can have up to 8 fowl and 2 dwarf goats without a permit!
For all other types of FPAs and/or more than the allowed maximum number, a Zoning Permit with Informational Notice (ZPIN) required

Use Limitations

1. No on-site slaughtering allowed.
2. Structures housing the FPAs must be located at least 10 feet from any structure containing a dwelling unit on abutting properties.
Any dwelling built within the last 55 years must have a 5 foot setback from the side property lines. So, that means that (at most) you would need to keep your FPA shelter 5 feet from your own property line, since the neighbor's house would also be set back 5 feet from their property line. However, some older dwellings are built right up to the side property line. In that situation, you could place your shelter further back on the lot, so that (if you were to draw a diagonal line) it would still be 10 feet from the neighbor's dwelling
People can build  their homes right up to the rear property line, so if the neighbor behind you has built their house in that way, your FPA shelter will need to stay 10 feet from that. However, this applies only to the FPA shelter itself. Your chickens and goats are free to wander in their fenced area, including up to the property line.
3. As accessory to a primary residential use, FPA use must be maintained within the rear 50% of the zone lot. Zoning Administrator may approve exceptions to this standard based on a site’s physical characteristics through an administrative process (no public hearing or public notice).

Zoning Enforcement

No Change. Neighborhood Inspection Services (NIS) will inspect after complaints; work with owner to correction violations; issue notice of violation orders; follow-up with more formal, court-ordered remedies as necessary.

Proposed Amendment to the Denver Animal Code

Assure the long-term care, health and welfare of Food Producing Animals; prevent the spread of disease; prevent cruelty and neglect to animals; and protect adjacent properties from adverse impacts due to animal escape or to improper care or treatment of animals or their waste.

Purpose for Amendment:
Keeping of Food Producing Animals currently requires either fowl or livestock permits issued by the Denver Department of Environmental Health (DEH). The DEH permit process includes a pre-permit inspection and an annual inspection/renewal of the permit. In addition to permit requirements, Denver’s animal control laws (D.M.C., Chapter 8) include generally applicable standards that control an owner’s treatment or management of domestic animals, including prohibitions on herding or grazing, proper handling of animal waste, prohibition on damages to public or other private property, and prevention of cruelty and neglect to animals. These generally applicable standards would apply equally to FPAs, without any need for amendment, except as specifically listed below.

The proposed amendment to the Denver Animal Code (D.M.C., Chapter 8) would:
1. Change the DEH process for keeping Food Producing Animals by allowing a set number and type of FPAs without requiring a DEH livestock or fowl permit or annual permit renewal, similar to how Denver allows its residents to keep dogs, cats, honeybees, and other domestic animals. Keeping of different types of FPAs other than chicken, ducks or goats, or keeping more than the maximum allowed number of FPAs as set by the Denver Zoning Code, would still required a livestock or fowl permit.
     a. Keeping a limited number of FPAs would, as with dogs and cats, be subject to specific standards under the Animal Code to assure the long-term health and welfare of the animals and to protect neighboring properties from any potential adverse impacts due to the improper care or management of the animals.
     b. Just as with keeping of other animals, if an owner does not follow the required animal control standards (typically discovered after a complaint is made to DEH’s animal control division), DEH will work with the animal owner to correct the problem and, if necessary, issue a citation or summons. If problems are not timely corrected, the City may take more formal action to abate the problem through the Denver County court.

2. Expand the current animal licensing laws to require licensing for dwarf goats to facilitate return of the animal to its owner should the animal escape. [This provision is still under review by DEH/Animal Control.]
This may end up being deemed unnecessary by Animal Control.

3. Expand the current “leash law,” which now applies only to dogs, to also apply to goats, such that it would be unlawful for goats to run “off leash” when not contained on the owner’s private property.

4. Expand the current “barking dog nuisance” ordinance to include protection from FPA animal noise. As with dogs, the city may not issue a summons against a FPA owner unless there are at least two or more complaining witnesses from separate households.

Summary of Animal Code Amendment

Allowed or Not Allowed

No change.

Process (Permits, Licensing, Public Notice)

For the specific types and maximum number of FPAs allowed in the Denver Zoning Code:
1. No livestock or fowl permit is required
2. Animal license required for goats only [this provision is still being reviewed by DEH]

For all other FPA types and/or for more than the allowed number, a DEH livestock/fowl permit from DEH will still be required.


Require the following:
1. Fowl: 4 sq. ft. of permeable land area per chicken or duck.
2. Goats: 130 sq. ft. of permeable land per goat, plus at least 15 sq. ft. of shelter space per goat
3. All FPAs:
     a. Adequate shelter/enclosure must be provided to protect the animals from the elements and to prevent wildlife or other predators from gaining entry.
     b. Adequate fencing shall be provided to contain the animals to prevent escape.
     c. Animal noise will be controlled similar to how barking dogs are controlled.
     d. FPAs will be subject to the Denver leash law.

Generally applicable standards controlling cruelty to animals, proper handling of waste, prevention of damage to public or private property, and control of other animal nuisances will continue to apply to FPAs as they do today.


No change.


So, there you have it! If you currently own FPAs, want to own FPAs, or just care about urban sustainable food systems, let us know what you think.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Radio Interview: Chickens & Goats on The Rob McNealy Program

I've often marveled at how sustainable food issues can make for (seemingly) strange bedfellows. As a lifelong left-leaning progressive, I've formed many friendships and alliances with right-leaning libertarian folk, who believe just as strongly as I do about the importance of access to healthy, self-produced food.

Rob McNealy fits that description. He and I may not agree on everything, but we sure can share our thoughts in earnest about the value of backyard gardens, frugality, sustainability, and the ridiculousness of bureaucratic rules that prevent people from producing their own food. 

Rob recently invited me to join him for a conversation on his radio program -- click here to listen to the interview.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Accepting Apprenticeship Applications for 2011 Season

Heirloom Gardens is currently accepting applications for our 2011 program. Please read through the information below, then contact us via email to receive an application. Applications are due by January 27th.

The Heirloom Gardens apprenticeship program is designed to give community members training and hands-on experience with several different aspects of urban food production.
Some people join the apprenticeship program in order to participate in a sustainable local food system, and to gain knowledge for their personal use. Others hope to start their own NSA (Neighborhood Supported Agriculture) programs. The Heirloom Gardens apprenticeship program includes training in the following areas:

     - Locating and contracting new garden spaces
     - Garden design and crop rotation planning
     - Garden creation
     - Volunteer training and supervision
     - Seed starting, repotting, and transplanting
     - Organic soil amendment methods
     - Harvesting
     - NSA distribution
     - Farmers' Market setup and operation
     - Wintering over crops and garden spaces
     - Urban chicken and goat care (optional)

Apprentices will be required to make the following time commitment:

     - February -- as needed (not more than 5 hours)
     - March and April -- 10 hours per month
     - May through October -- 20 hours per month

From late May to early October, Apprentices will need to commit to a regular schedule that includes a weekly harvesting session, plus a 3 hour weekend shift at least twice a month. Additional work hours will be scheduled as needed. Note: Apprentices will have a "bank" of 20 hours that they can utilize May-Oct in case of sickness, vacation, etc. For details on the scheduling requirements, please contact Sundari at info@eatwhereUlive.com.

In addition to the time commitment, Apprentices should:

     - Feel comfortable supervising and directing others
     - Be well organized
     - Interact well with the public (i.e. customers)
     - Be able to comfortably lift 40 pounds
     - Have reliable transportation
     - Own a shovel, trowel, and bucket
     - Be ok with getting dirty!

Apprentices do not need to have special gardening knowledge or expertise.

In exchange for their work, Apprentices will receive a free vegetable share during the 20-week distribution season. At the conclusion of the season, interested Apprentices will receive all Heirloom Gardens applications and forms (including garden application, yard use contract, CSA member agreement, and volunteer release of liability) for their use in starting their own NSA program! Apprentices will also be able to attend Heirloom Gardens classes for free (on a space-available basis).

To apply for the 2011 program, or to ask questions, contact Sundari at info@eatwhereUlive.com.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chickens, Chickens Everywhere: The Differences Between the Ordinance and the Ballot Initiative

Boy, there's a lot going on in the world of Denver backyard barnyards right now! Between talk of a Food-Producing Animals ordinance and a 6-chicken ballot initiative, it's no wonder that things get confusing. I've had several conversations with people who think that these two efforts are one in the same, or are taking qualities of one thing and mistakenly attributing it to the other. So, I thought it would be worthwhile to take a moment and explain, as clearly as possible, the differences between the ordinance and the ballot initiative. I think it is important for anyone who supports chickens, sustainable food systems, or urban Food-Producing Animals to understand the two options.

(Note: This post also contains information on what you can do to get involved -- look for the ***** near the end.)

Ordinance -- Sustainable Food Denver (my organization) has been working on a comprehensive ordinance to allow Food-Producing Animals without a permit. You can read more details about the specifics of the process here, but basically we are part of a working group that includes folks from City Council, Community Planning & Development, Animal Control, and the Department of Law that is creating a basic outline for the ordinance. The outline will go to the Sustainable Food Policy Council (SFPC) this month for consideration, at which point the various agencies that participate in the SFPC (like Denver Urban Gardens, Slow Food Denver, Transition Denver, Feed Denver, The GrowHaus, Sustainable Food Denver, and many more) will discuss the outline with their members and ask for feedback. Then, in February, the SFPC will incorporate that feedback and produce a recommendation for a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance.

It isn't possible to know what will end up being in the ordinance until the SFPC produces its recommendation in February. However, there is a good chance that it may give us the opportunity for a pretty progressive FPA policy -- for example, it may allow 8 female fowl (chickens or ducks)  and 2 dwarf dairy goats -- without requiring a permit. In addition, an ordinance like this would allow us to include a few common-sense guidelines for the keeping of these animals, like a certain amount of permeable ground (i.e. dirt) required per animal. For example, the ordinance might require 10-16 square feet of permeable ground per fowl, and 130 square feet per dwarf goat. (This will work similar to the bee ordinance, where there is not a permit, but there are guidelines for placement of the hives.) The guidelines for chickens and goats will not be onerous, or exist to create barriers for people who want to raise these animals. They will be meant to support the keeping of healthy animals, and will be in line with other progressive FPA ordinances across the country.

Once the SFPC makes its recommendation, the proposed ordinance will go through various city and public processes, eventually making its way to City Council by (hopefully) April. At that point, with enough help (look for the *** below to see how you can help!) a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance will get passed by the City Council. We are well on our way to getting enough votes to pass an ordinance like this, and there is considerable support for it in the community, on the Sustainable Food Policy Council, within city agencies, and within City Council. I really believe that we can pass it -- otherwise I wouldn't be working so hard on it!

Ballot Initiative -- As  we mentioned, there is also a potential ballot initiative. This ballot initiative would allow for the keeping of 6 female chickens (no roosters) without a permit. There is no language in the ballot initiative regarding how the animals are to be kept (for example, there's no minimum land requirement), and the ballot initiative does not allow for ducks or dwarf goats. The ballot initiative is the thing that requires the gathering of signatures -- if you've seen a petition to allow chickens in the city, that is for the ballot initiative.

The first thing you may notice is that the possible FPA ordinance (8 fowl, 2 goats) is far more comprehensive than the proposed ballot initiative (6 hens). Another thing to understand is that a ballot initiative is like "doubling down" in a poker game. It could pass, but it's risky. If we don't pass our FPA ordinance in April, we can always then petition for a ballot initiative afterward (for the November ballot). However, if we push a ballot initiative and it gets voted down by the public, then City Council will not consider FPA issues for at least another 2 years.

And here's where it gets tricky... if the chicken ballot initiative gathers enough signatures, then it will be certified for the ballot and after March 3rd nobody (including the person who wrote it) has the power to pull it off the ballot. This means that we could potentially be in a situation where we DO pass our comprehensive FPA ordinance in April, but then if the public votes for the 6-chicken initiative in May, the initiative will actually UNDO parts of what we passed in April. In other words, we'd go from 8-12 chickens down to 6 chickens. I know it's confusing, but that's part of the conundrum we're in.

My personal wish is that we would wait on the ballot initiative, and give this comprehensive FPA ordinance a chance to pass City Council. If it doesn't pass the City Council vote, I promise you that I will be the first person to grab a clipboard and stand in front of the supermarket collecting signatures for a ballot initiative. If we proceed with our efforts in a logical order (ordinance first, then ballot initiative if we have to) we stand a good chance of getting what we want... but if we do things out of order then they could really get messed up.

*****How You Can Help*****
The information regarding helping with the ballot initiative (if you choose to do so) can be found here. If you'd like to help us pass the comprehensive FPA ordinance (8 fowl, 2 dwarf goats) Sustainable Food Denver is organizing people into council district "Action Teams," so that I can contact you at appropriate times and encourage to lobby your City Councilperson to support our FPA ordinance.

Please email me at sustainablefooddenver@gmail.com and let me know what council district you live in. If you're not sure, just send me your cross-streets and I'll look it up for you. We will be rallying the Action Teams to talk with their councilmembers and neighbors, and we'll be sure to provide you with all the information you need to advocate for this issue.

Thank you for your willingness to help us develop a more sustainable food system in Denver. If you have any concerns, or if there's something you'd like to see included in a new FPA ordinance, let me know and I'll pass the information along.

Kenny Be: The Denver County Fair

You know you've "made it" in Denver when you have the honor of being drawn by Kenny Be for Westword. And, even better, if you're featured in the Westword Predictions of 2011!

The sure-to-be-fantastic Denver County Fair received this prediction from Westword: "The success of the first-ever Denver County Fair in July inspires apartment, condo and loft dwellers across the city to start their own swing-out, roof-top and window-box urban farms." Absolutely, Westword! (but where are the chickens and goats?)

We are thrilled at the prospect of participating in the Denver County Fair. Both Heirloom Gardens and Sustainable Food Denver will be taking part, alongside many other wonderful Denver sustainability organizations. Mark you calendar for July 28th-31st at the National Western Complex -- we hope to see you there!

Click here to read more about the Denver County  Fair, and click here to follow them on Facebook.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Vilified Ag-Land Tax Break, and Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

There has been a fair amount of media coverage in Denver recently about Colorado's lenient agricultural-land tax breaks. The articles focus on how this policy is being abused (generally by the super-rich) and, of course, the overall message is pretty harsh. For example, take a moment and read today's article in the Denver Post about tremendous property tax savings in the posh Cherry Hills Village area.

To be sure, it's unfair to grant millionaires tens of thousands of dollars in tax breaks for "agricultural" activities that appear to be purely window-dressing. However, in the justifiable uproar over the abuses, we risk losing a valuable opportunity for urban sustainability. In an effort to prevent the manipulation that is currently happening, some legislators want to impose a minimum land size (like 20 acres) in order to qualify for the ag-land designation.

The Post article requested feedback from readers, and I sent them this letter:

I understand that the abuses of the ag-land designation by the super-rich are troublesome. However, as we look at reforming the law, I will be advocating for tighter guidelines around how the land is truly being used -- NOT a minimum space requirement. Urban agriculture is growing rapidly in Denver, and there are many reasons to believe that more food production (both plant- and animal-based) within cities is one of the keys to a sustainable and healthy future for urban residents.

Around the world, more people now live in cities than live in rural areas. We can no longer afford to think of food production as something that happens "out there" -- for example, on spaces that are at least 20 acres. We need to start producing more of what we eat right where we live, and families (or neighborhood groups working together) can produce a surprising amount of vegetables, fruit, milk, eggs, grains, and/or meat on a small urban space.

Right now most of the regulations in urban areas discourage sustainable food production in favor of outdated wastefulness (i.e. trying to maintain a a perfect lawn in an arid climate). I believe that we should be incentivizing people to use their resources -- like water and land -- for growing or raising food, and tax law is one way to do that. The public revenues lost by giving tax breaks to true agricultural ventures, no matter the size of the land, will be more than made up for through the environmental, food safety, and public health savings that a sustainable food system would generate.

I would ask that our legislators' time be spent coming up with ways to tighten the use requirements for this designation. Grazing a couple of llamas twice a year is a questionable qualification for the tax break. However, don't throw the baby out with the bath water -- let's support our urban agriculture pioneers in building the food systems of the future.

Sundari Kraft

What do you think? Can we leverage ag-land designations to actually promote urban agriculture, or is this tax break too often abused to be allowed to continue? Should urban farmers even have the option of receiving tax savings for using city land for food production? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and -- even better -- send them to The Denver Post at TIPS@denverpost.com

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Caring for Backyard Chickens & Goats in Cold Weather

After weeks of mild weather, we've experienced a bit of a cold snap. This morning I realized that you really know it's cold outside when there's steam rising out of the pail after you've finished milking!

Inquiries about winter care are some of the most frequently asked questions during my backyard chicken and goat classes, as future animal owners consider the challenges of raising animals that have to live outside 24/7 -- even during the harshest conditions.
The good news is that livestock (including the city kind!) are pretty tough critters, and are built to withstand the cold. The goats grow a thick winter coat, and the chickens puff up their feathers and hunker down. Backyard animal care isn't too difficult during the winter, but when temperatures start to fall there are a few things you can do to help keep your animals healthy.

Adventurous chicken tracks
Shelter: First and foremost, make sure your animals have a place to spend their day where they can stay dry and out of the wind. They may choose to wade out into the snow from time to time (surprisingly, the chickens are much more likely to venture out when it's snowing than the goats) but it's very important that they have access to dry bedding. In fact, you might want to give them a little extra bedding, just so they can burrow in when it gets really cold.

Water: As every animal owner knows, it's important to never let your critters go without water. And unfortunately, frozen water is as good as no water. Luckily, there are many different ways to keep your water from freezing. You can purchase a heated base for your water dispenser, or buy a heater that floats in the water bucket. If you spend most of the day at home, you can simply boil a teakettle of water from time to time, and use it to melt the ice that's formed in the water bucket.

My friend Jamie has a special trick she likes to use for her chickens and goats. She has a small, insulated cooler (the kind you'd fill with ice and soda cans before a picnic). She makes her animals their special "tea" by heating water on the stove, then pouring it into the open cooler. The insulation keeps the water warm, and the animals absolutely love to drink from it on cold days.

Food: Cold weather is no time to skimp on food. Goats, especially, use the process of ruminating their hay to warm their bodies. Give a little extra food to both your chickens and goats, so they can eat everything they need to keep their bodies nice and toasty.
Supplemental Heat: Many animal owners (though not all) use some form of supplemental heat during especially cold nights. The mechanism for delivering heat depends a lot on your shelter. A small chicken coop just needs a 60-watt light bulb, whereas a larger coop or shed might need a heat lamp. In the case of goats, you don't want to fully close them in because any ammonia fumes (from the bedding) will damage their lungs, so hanging a tarp to create a small insulated area can be helpful. Of course, be sure that any heat source is very well secured, and it's not a bad idea to keep a smoke detector in the area.

Vaseline: Chickens keep most of their body warm with their feathers, but their tender combs and wattles are susceptible to frostbite. Even with supplemental heat, you may find that you need to coat the comb and/or wattle of certain chickens with vaseline to protect from frostbite. In my flock, I've discovered that the only chicken at risk is my White Leghorn, with her extra-large comb. Vaseline-ing the head of a chicken is exactly as difficult as it sounds, but it's worth it because frostbite is very painful and can lead to infections.

Attention: While your animals don't need a constant babysitter during cold weather (though they always like the company), making an extra trip or two out to the barnyard to check on things is advisable. It's nice to be able to spot a burned-out heating lamp, or a chicken that stumbled into the water dish and now has damp feathers, before the cold weather turns the situation into an emergency. 99.9% of the time things will be just fine when you pop outside to check, but the peace of mind you get is worth the effort.

While cold snaps may add a few minutes to your daily animal care routine, you'll soon find that winter weather is nothing to fear. Happy backyard-animal-raising!