Wednesday, March 30, 2011

One Chicken Owner's Story

Many, many thanks to all of you who have taken the time to email the City Council Land Use committee to share your support of the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance. There have been lots of great thoughts expressed to the Councilmembers. I wanted to highlight one of the emails that I feel really expressed things well.

Thank you to Ben T. for writing this email, and giving me permission to post it.
Dear Committee,

I am a resident of Denver, living in the Speer neighborhood. I wanted to let you know that I support the proposed Food Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance as it is currently written.

I could send you a longer email with a more complete and detailed explanation of why each component in the proposed ordinance is what should be passed. Instead, I would like to offer my experience as an urban chicken owner, when I lived in Portland, OR.

Urban chickens are not a new concept. Even a few decades ago, it was common for everyone to have chickens in their yard. When my wife first brought up the idea, I was completely against it. "No way" was my response. After taking two introductory courses, and speaking to several owners of Urban Chickens, I was convinced of the merits - and possible enjoyment - of owning the birds. It's hard to explain the enjoyment, entertainment, educational value and sustainability that come from having them.

- Chickens eat almost any scraps that come from the kitchen - reducing our waste stream.
- Well kept chickens don't have an odor.
- They provide eggs that are far more rich than those you can buy in the supermarket - produced right in your own back yard!
- They educate children about the sources of our food.
- Chickens are interesting enough that our neighbors across the fence started asking questions, and we became friends with them. Chickens actually helped to strengthen our community!

How many people on the committee own chickens?

Of the 7 people on the committee, the number who own chickens is likely in the minority. That isn't wrong - not everyone should or needs to own chickens - but to make a ruling on an issue, with no firsthand experience, it becomes increasingly important that the team spend a significant amount of time speaking with and sharing the experiences of those that have owned them. Most of the detractors on this issue have no first hand experience with them.

I was disappointed when I moved from Portland, OR to Denver, CO last year. Denver is not nearly as "green" or sustainable of a city as I would have expected - not for a place that draws so much from the outdoors and it's surrounding environment. Denver needs to take some significant steps forward. This committee is positioned to help Denver do that.

I live in an apartment building in Washington Park area. I don't stand to gain if the ordinance passes - but I stopped to take the 30 minutes out of my day because this issue is important. Easy access to responsible ownership of Urban chickens is a building block for creating a more sustainable city.
Call the city of Portland. Talk to chicken owners. Get balanced information. Don't let fear of the unknown slow Denver down in it's transition to a more sustainable future.

Thanks for all that you do to lead this community forward. Your leadership is important.

All the best,
Ben T_____

Neighborhood Support for the FPA ordinance: La Alma/Lincoln Park and Stapleton United Neighbors

(Click here to view the February 2nd letter of support from the River North Art District.)

Letter of support for the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance from the La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association.

March 15, 2011

Councilwoman Judy Montero
Councilwoman Carol Boigon
Councilman Doug Linkhart
Denver Planning Board
City and County of Denver
Denver, Colorado

Re: Food Producing Animals Ordinance

Dear City Council members and Planning Board:

The La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association appreciates the opportunity to share with you our thoughts on the proposed Food Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance currently under consideration. At our monthly meeting in February representatives from Sustainable Food Denver provided an overview of the FPA ordinance and the issues surrounding urban agriculture in Denver. After a robust discussion around the details of raising animals in the city and the proposed ordinance, our association unanimously voted to support the FPA ordinance.

As a neighborhood ranging from single-family residential areas to high-density residential and office towers to industrial campuses, La Alma/Lincoln Park has a diverse population with varying opinions and preferences that are just as diverse. Noting the diversity of our members, we appreciate that the proposed FPA ordinance seeks to tackle the issues facing urban agriculture and animals – noise, sanitation, property rights, permits, etc – in a straight forward manner and in cooperation with City staff and departments.

Urban agriculture is a common topic at our monthly meetings, as many of our members actively garden through plots at their homes or through community gardens. Denver Housing Authority staff has indicated that as part of the South Lincoln redevelopment they are looking to incorporate space for community gardens on that site. Underlying these discussions are desires for sustainability in our neighborhood and access to healthy, inexpensive food. While our neighborhood does have a large-format grocery store, many residents choose to garden as an alternative. Given a straight forward and simple manner in which to raise chickens and goats for eggs and milk, our neighborhood would benefit from a comprehensive FPA law that allow for these activities without excessive red tape and bureaucracy.

In closing, the La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association supports the proposed FPA ordinance, and as our representatives we ask for your support of this measure.

La Alma/Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association
A letter of support for the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance from Stapleton United Neighbors.

March 18, 2011

Dear City Council and Planning Board,

The Stapleton United Neighbors (SUN) board would like to express its support for the Food-Producing Animals ordinance that is being proposed by Councilman Nevitt. We appreciate the thought that has been put into the proposed ordinance by CPD, DEH, and the City Attorney's office, and we believe that the guidelines for the keeping of animals are adequate to support the health, safety, and welfare of our neighborhoods. We understand that cities across the country have adopted Food-Producing Animals ordinances similar to the one that Denver is considering.

The community that resides in Stapleton values sustainable living, and we recognize that urban-appropriate backyard food production can be a part of sustainable city living. In addition, we support our residents who choose to grow or raise some of their own food because of health, economic, and food safety considerations. There are currently residents in Stapleton who have backyard Food-Producing Animals, and it has not created a problem for our community.

We encourage the Planning Board and City Council to adopt the proposed Food-Producing Animals ordinance. Thank you.

Steven C. Lawrence
President, Board of Directors

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Action Alert: Don't Negotiate Away the Proposed Ordinance!

(If you want to jump to the sample email, look for the yellow Action Alert further down the page.)

The proposed Food Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance is at a critical place. It is important to show our support in order to hold on to the improvements that we've been working on for the last 2 years. The ordinance is now sitting in City Council's Land Use, Infrastructure, and Transportation (LUTI) committee. LUTI is charged with evaluating the ordinance, modifying it if necessary, and then passing it along to the full City Council for a vote.

The bad news is that there are a couple of neighborhood activists that have been strongly lobbying for significant changes to the proposed ordinance. Those of us who have been advocating for this issue for a long time understand that compromise is part of the process. However, if these neighborhood activists are successful in getting their way, it would effectively gut much of the progress in the ordinance, and continue to make it unnecessarily difficult for urban residents to raise small numbers of backyard chickens, ducks, and dwarf goats.

It is critical that we take a stand for the ordinance as it is currently written. If we don't stand for the current ordinance, it will be easier for those that oppose it to continue to drag the various provisions backward. A significant amount of thought and care went into crafting the proposed ordinance, and its guidelines are well in line with successful FPA ordinances in other cities.

One more piece of important information before we move into the Action Alert... The two aforementioned neighborhood activists took their case to INC this weekend. INC is the Inter-Neighborhood Cooperation. The idea behind INC is that each Registered Neighborhood Organization (RNO) will send a representative to serve at INC. However, though there are over 200 RNOs in the city, only 20 or so were represented at Saturday's INC meeting.

The INC folks are generally long-time neighborhood activists. They're often retired (or of retirement age) and fit within a certain demographic. As you can imagine, the demands to significantly alter the proposed Food Producing Animals ordinance were generally embraced by the people at INC. While they are certainly entitled to their individual opinions, the unfortunate fact is that INC often tries to present itself as the "voice of the neighborhoods." You live in a Denver neighborhood, as do I. INC doesn't speak for us, and it's important that we remind our City Councilmembers of this fact.

Action Alert

The ways in which the neighborhood activists want to alter the proposed ordinance can be found in the sample email below. Please feel free to use the sample email in its entirety, cut and paste what you'd like, or create something of your own from scratch. My only request is that you keep the subject line intact -- we'd like to send a unified message to the members of the LUTI committee who will be deciding whether to drastically alter the proposed ordinance.

Please send your email to the following members of City Council. You can do one email that cc's all of them. It's also ok that some of these people aren't your designated representative -- they sit on the LUTI committee, so they're working on behalf of all of Denver right now.

and cc:

Subject: Don't change the proposed ordinance -- INC doesn't speak for me!
Dear Members of the LUTI committee:

I am a resident of Denver, living in the ______ neighborhood. I wanted to let you know that I support the proposed Food Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance as it is currently written. I believe that the proposed ordinance strikes a fair balance between supporting the rights of individual property owners and protecting neighbors from adverse impacts. In addition, the current guidelines within the proposed ordinance fall well within the range of what is occurring in other cities with successful FPA ordinances.

I understand that INC may be issuing a position statement asking for various parts of the ordinance to be changed. INC does not speak for me, nor do they speak for a number of my Denver friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers.

I would like the following provisions in the proposed FPA ordinance to remain intact:

No needless RNO/neighbor notification -- Some RNOs have expressed concern that public notification will not occur for a limited number of FPAs under the proposed ordinance. Standards for public notification should be based on impact. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that 8 female fowl and 2 dwarf goats would cause significant impact to a neighborhood. Many people in Denver are currently raising these animals, and state that their neighbors have absolutely no idea that the animals exist. We do not require public notice/input for up to 3 dogs (even if these dogs weigh 150 pounds each and have the potential to bark and bite). It is patently unfair and illogical to require public notice for 8 female fowl and 2 dwarf goats, when there is no evidence of negative impact on neighborhoods. Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles  allow the keeping of a specified number and/or type of FPAs without public notification. Seattle used to allow up to 3 chickens and 3 dwarf goats without a permit. They experienced so few problems that in 2010 they upped their allowed numbers to 8 chickens and 3 dwarf goats.

No annual permitting fee -- Other cities that have adopted FPA ordinances have not reported an increased burden to city agencies because of enforcement. There is no logical reason for requiring ongoing annual permitting fees for animal that don't require vaccinations for public health reasons (like dogs and cats do). Many people who wish to raise backyard FPAs are doing so because they want access to healthy, affordable food. While chickens and goats do pay for themselves, there are some costs associated with their care. Adding unjustified annual fees to that amount would unduly burden Denver residents, especially low-income families who stand to benefit the most from access to affordable food. Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, and Colorado Springs all allow a specified number and/or type of FPAs with no permit and no fees.

10 foot separation between FPA structure and a neighbor's dwelling unit -- The proposed 10 foot separation (coupled with noise, odor, and nuisance regulations) is adequate to balance potential impacts on neighbors with the ability of Denver residents to enjoy reasonable use of their property. The suggested 25 foot separation would effectively "zone out" many Denver residents from the ability to keep FPAs. There are people in Denver who are currently keeping FPAs with a shelter 10 feet from their neighbor's dwelling, and they haven't experienced any problems. Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles do not have any shelter distance requirements for the keeping of FPAs. Seattle successfully requires just a 10 foot separation from a neighbor's dwelling.

Permeable space requirement -- Respected chicken keeping books cite a minimum space requirement of 4 square feet per bird. Denver's proposed ordinance asks for 10 square feet per bird, which is 2.5 times what is listed in some books and 20 times the amount of space that factory farm chickens have access to. Urban backyard chicken keepers acknowledge 10 square feet of space as a respectable standard -- this would equal a minimum of 80 total square feet of wandering room for anyone who kept 8 hens. While many chicken owners may opt to voluntarily provide their birds with more than the required minimum, I believe that the suggestion of mandating 16 square feet of space per bird is unnecessary and is not supported by successful FPA ordinances in other cities. Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Fort Collins do not include any permeable space requirements in their ordinances.

Shelter space requirement -- The shelter space requirement in the proposed ordinance is addressing the predator-proof, nighttime enclosure for chickens. Because chickens go blind and don't move at night, a relatively small space (1 square foot per bird) is adequate for containing them. Chicken owners generally provide their birds with some form of shelter/shade/structure to daytime shelter when it's needed (which isn't very often with Colorado's low precipitation rates), but whatever daytime shelter is provided doesn't need to meet the construction standards of the predator-proof, nighttime enclosure. Asking that an excessively large (4 square feet per bird) nighttime enclosure be required would not only present an unnecessary cost burden to the chicken owner, but also leaves the chickens at greater risk of frostbite during winter nights. Seattle, Portland, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles do not include any space minimums for chicken shelters in their FPA ordinances.

Thank you for taking the time to consider my request. I look forward to seeing the LUTI committee vote on April 5th to move the proposed ordinance, in its current form, through to City Council.

(your name)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Getting the Greenhouse Ready (subtitle: I still have all my fingers!)

For me, the definitive sign that spring is coming is when it's time to get the greenhouse ready. We have a 12' x 11' PVC frame greenhouse next to our house. It's tiny by commercial growing standards, but it works for us.

Every spring we cover the greenhouse frame with 6mm clear plastic sheeting (you can find it in the paint section of Lowe's or Home Depot). Covering the greenhouse is not an easy task. Luckily, the fantastic Heirloom Gardens urban farmers were on hand to provide assistance. Half of the group worked with me to cover the greenhouse, and the other half sterilized our seedling trays and pots so we could reuse them for this year's plants. Unfortunately, I didn't get any photos during that work session (too busy wrestling with big rolls of plastic), but you can see the result!

The next task was to rebuild the greenhouse tables. We have 8 tall (4 foot) tables and 6 short (2 foot) tables in the greenhouse. The short ones fit under the tall ones, and can be pulled into the aisles so that all of the plants get sunshine.

Unfortunately, I was the one in charge of designing and building the initial tables. The result was somewhat precarious, because building is not one of my fortes (copious amount of Gorilla Glue were involved in the construction). Therefore, after two years, the tall tables were about ready to topple over.

Enter Dave. Dave and his wife are good friends of ours. Dave works as a firefighter, and often spends his days off helping his less talented friends with construction/home remodeling projects. Dave took apart the old tables and rebuilt them so that they'd be structurally sound. I am, needless to say, eternally grateful. Once the seedlings are ready to go, Dave and his wife will get to come by and select whatever they would like to take home and plant in their garden.

Dave brought a whole bunch of neat tools, and I helped him cut the 2x4s that were used for the tables' frames. Here's the saw that I used:

I'm pretty sure I just heard my mom's heart skip a beat. Yep -- I used the big saw. I have a bit of a reputation for being clumsy, so I was pretty proud to successfully use the saw without bloodshed.

Together, we got the tables rebuilt and ready to go. Looking forward to a great crop of seedlings this year!

(Thanks to Brian Kraft Photography for the photos.)

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Getting 'Em Started

One of the most interesting things to me about growing food is how it forces you to stay ahead of the curve. On a chilly morning in early March, no one's thoughts are naturally on garden tomatoes. Yet, if you want tomatoes in July and August, you have to start them in March.

Seed starting (and some of our other seated gardening activities, like repotting) reminds me a bit of a quilting bee. A great chance to relax for a couple of hours and catch up with the folks in your community.

Henderson's Pink Ponderosa and Black Cherry tomato packets. Heirloom varieties have the best names!

Counting Purple Calabash tomato seeds.

We have a small hoophouse to grow our seedlings. It works well once seeds have germinated, but it's difficult to heat the hoophouse so that it's warm enough (consistently 70ish degrees) for seeds to sprout. So, we sprout most of our seeds indoors, in damp paper towels. Once they've germinated, then they get planted in seed trays and placed in the outdoor hoophouse.

The seeds (folded into wet paper towels) then go into open plastic bags. The plastic keeps the paper towels from drying out, but leaving the bag open prevents mold.

We grow thousands of seedlings in our little hoophouse -- got to keep track of what's been planted!

Each bag typically contains 50-70 seeds. With this method, we can use just one heating pad to germinate literally thousands of seeds, rather than investing in lots of grow lights or several space heaters to heat the hoophouse.