Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Do You Care About Animals? Why Turning Backyards into Barnyards is a Great Idea!

(If you want to skip ahead to the Action Alert, scroll down and look for yellow.)

You may already know that -- after two years of growing community momentum -- Denver's City Council is getting ready to consider a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance. The ordinance is still in draft form, and Sustainable Food Denver (along with all of the members of the Sustainable Food Policy Council) have been actively soliciting feedback.

Recently, a woman who is associated with a vegan advocacy group here in Denver has started sending letters to members of her organization, other animal rights organizations, and Denver neighborhood organizations. She, as an animal rights activist, opposes the Food-Producing Animals ordinance and the general practice of keeping backyard livestock. She is strongly urging City Council to vote against the ordinance.

Now, I want to be clear -- I very much support everyone's right to their views, opinions, and dietary choices. I also understand that conflicting opinions are going to be a part of the process, especially when we're dealing with an issue as public as this one.

However, no matter how passionate someone may be about a topic, facts still matter. The author of the anti-FPA letter makes a number of claims, and they're generally based in fear-mongering and fallacy. It's worth noting that the author's sole source to back up her claims is United Poultry Concerns, a website that sells a book entitled "The Holocaust & The Henmaid's Tale: A Case for Comparing Atrocities.

I'm going to address the many myths that were present in the anti-FPA letter, and counter with facts about the keeping of backyard chickens and goats. But, before I go any further, I want to say again that I have great respect for those who choose to follow a vegan diet. In fact, there are several vegans (and vegetarians) who support the work of Sustainable Food Denver. Here is what a few of them have to say:

"Six years ago I made the decision to move from a vegetarian lifestyle to a vegan lifestyle. Not everyone is willing or able to make that sort of decision. With this understanding I am compelled to support the Food-Producing Animals ordinance. I am hopeful that families who choose to raise chickens and/or goats will halt consumption of animal products derived from factory farming processes and continue to cultivate compassion for the animals they care for. Additionally, I believe the ordinance has the potential to influence and create laws protecting farm animals from cruelty and abuse." --C.B.

"As a vegan I actually applaud and wholeheartedly support the Food Producing Animals ordinance. I feel strongly that my friends and acquaintances with chickens and/or goats care deeply about these animals and care for them as they would any other companion animal in their lives. They have chosen to take a stand and remove themselves from the vicious circle that contains animal cruelty through factory farming. It would be a shame to take wholesome and kindly produced milk and eggs from them and their children." --T.H.

"I'm a vegetarian that loves eggs, however, I haven't eaten meat for 16 years. I know that the meat eaters outnumber the vegans and vegetarians, so I choose to work with them in our society. I think the benefits of raising your own chickens are far better than the nasty conditions of the chicken warehouses. The more of us that aren't supporting the corporations slaughtering our precious animals, the better off we are at saving this planet. We can only take one step at a time and if Denver households find it easier to raise chickens, they won't go to the local grocery store to support the evil American meat business." --A.H.

If your goal as an animal rights activist is a 100% vegan society, then be honest about that and work toward it through education and outreach. However, in lieu of a purely vegan society, I can't fathom why anyone who truly cared about animal rights would prefer that consumers get their eggs and dairy from Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs) as opposed to backyard barnyards. Not every backyard chicken-raiser is going to be perfect, to be sure -- but on average the backyard barnyard is a far cry more humane than CAFOs.

Here are some photos of the types of places where the vast majority of Americans get their eggs and dairy:

In contrast, this is where my family gets its eggs and dairy...

All right, let's get to looking at the points that the anti-FPA letter raised. Later in this post, look for the Action Alert to learn how you can help!

Myth: FPAs are bad for cities, resulting in numerous complaints and an increase in enforcement costs.
Fact: The actual experience of cities that have tried FPA ordinances is that the result is either positive or neutral for the city's agencies. A professor at DePaul University did a study of 23 cities across the country that had recently enacted chicken keeping ordinances, and the study showed very few problems, with a "positive" or "neutral" assessment of the overall impact. Cities like Seattle and Portland allow the keeping of hen chickens and dwarf goats without a permit, and Seattle even recently voted to make its laws more progressive (going from 3 hens up to 8). We can also find evidence of the lack of negative impact closer to home. Fort Collins and Longmont recently enacted chicken-keeping ordinances, and both cities had the option of "sunsetting" (cancelling) the new rules after one year. Neither city chose to invoke the sunset.

Looking at the FPA policies of other cities across the country is a fundamental part of countering each of the anti-FPA arguments. If FPAs were truly so hazardous, disruptive, etc, then cities that had tried allowing FPAs would be undoing the laws at the first opportunity. Instead, we see the opposite occurring -- every week there is a new city (large or small) that decides to allow the keeping of FPAs in some form, and cities that had previously passed FPA ordinances are often expanding them.

Myth: Urban FPAs will attract predators to Denver neighborhoods.
Fact: Small mammal predators are a fact of life in the city. Outdoor cats, squirrels, birds, and – most especially – our garbage, all ensure that predators will continue to stick around. In fact, with our city’s trash system, there are probably several dead chickens right now in every block of Denver. They’re in the dumpsters – the chicken carcasses that people throw away after dinner, or grocery store rotisseries throw out whole if they don’t sell by the end of the day. This isn’t to say that if you put a live chicken in front of a fox then the fox won’t eat it, but it’s not correct to think that a few chickens would impact the predator population when there is already such a vast abundance of available food for them to eat. Note from Sundari: I have a neighbor that keeps cat food on her front porch. I watched a fox walk down my street, go up her steps, and eat out of the bowl!

Myth: FPAs will get loose and damage neighbor's gardens.
Fact: The proposed FPA ordinance requires fencing adequate to keep the animals contained. If someone's animals get out, they're not following the ordinance. It's interesting to be concerned about the impact that chickens (who weigh about 5 pounds each) and dwarf goats (who weigh 50 pounds and can't dig) could have on a neighbor's garden, compared to the possible impact of a 100-pound dog on the loose.

Myth: Passing an FPA ordinance will increase the likelihood of on-site slaughter.
Fact: The proposed ordinance expressly prohibits the slaughtering of FPAs in a residentially zoned district. Slaughtering on-site is against the law now, and it will be against the law if the FPA ordinance passes. Yes, there will always be people who don't care about the law. But, since those people don't follow the laws anyway, they're just as likely to slaughter FPAs now as in the future.

Myth: Eggs and dairy are bad for peoples' health.
Fact: I believe that diet is a deeply personal choice. We are all different people with different body chemistries, and not everyone can thrive on the same diet. For every vegan advocacy group that states that eggs and dairy are dangerous, there are groups like the Weston A. Price Foundation that say that an exclusively vegan diet is dangerous. What can be reliably proven is that the eggs and dairy produced by healthy, ethically raised animals is safer than what comes out of CAFOs (due to antibiotics, bacterial contamination, and a host of other dangers).

Myth: Raising animals is not environmentally sustainable, because the grain used to feed them is grown on land that could be used to grow other crops.
Fact: The above isn't a misstatement, but more of a misdirection. There are a number of factors that each person considers when deciding what to eat, and land use concerns are something that motivate some folks to choose a vegan diet. However, this discussion is not about whether everyone in the world should be a vegan. (That is a separate discussion, and if 100% veganism is the anti-FPA advocate's goal, then she needs to be upfront about that.) The backyard FPA issue is about how those people who do choose to consume eggs and dairy can best obtain that food. From an environmental point of view, it goes without saying that the well-documented pollution of CAFOs is a significant environmental hazard. It is also more ecologically sound to consume food that is produced in your backyard, rather than food that has been trucked in from somewhere else.

Myth: FPAs attract mice and rats.
Fact: The recommended method for storing animal feed is in a sealable, airtight container (like a big tupperware tub). It is certainly in the FPA owner's interest to keep the food sealed so that mice aren't attracted to it. However, let's also remember that lots of people throughout the city have birdfeeders, and they can also choose to leave cat food on their front porches if they choose to.

Myth: FPA ordinances result in an increase in FPAs being turned in to animal shelters.
Fact: The DePaul University study does not support this idea of a negative impact. If an FPA owner wants to re-home their animals, there are multiple options available to them. Denver is surrounded by lots of rural space, and those "country folk" have the sense to recognize the value of an FPA -- especially if it's being given away for free. This includes roosters that occasionally show up by mistake in a chick order and older non-productive hens. It also includes baby goat offspring. There is a significant demand in the agricultural communities surrounding Denver for dwarf dairy goats.

Myth: FPAs will result in an increase in noise and odor.
Fact: First of all, FPAs are much quieter than many of the critters that are currently residing in Denver backyards. Secondly, the FPA ordinance will address the issue of disruptive animal noise. In the unlikely situation that your chickens or dwarf goats are creating a disturbance, there will be consequences. The same goes for the odor question. Poorly cared for animals of any species are likely to smell bad. However, it is not challenging to maintain FPAs in a way that does not produce an odor or nuisance to neighbors. 

I want to close this section by saying that I have had the following people (among many others) visit my backyard barnyard -- seven City Councilmembers, the former mayor's chief of staff, the Zoning Administrator, the head of Neighborhood Inspection Services, the director of Animal Care and Control, and a Principal City Planner. If anyone is trained to spot problems with backyard FPAs or their impact on the neighborhood, it's these folks. Everyone inspected my little barnyard and saw that things were just fine (and I'm not even the best barnyard-keeper-upper I know!).

Action Alert: How You Can Help!

Once again, it's time to fire up those email accounts to contact our City Councilmembers and Registered Neighborhood Organizations! If you're not sure which way to point your emails:

Feel free to craft your own email from scratch. If you'd like to use a template, try this:
Subject: Backyard Barnyards are a Great Idea!

Dear _________,

I am writing to express my support for the proposed new Food-Producing Animals ordinance. Although the keeping of FPAs is allowed in many cities throughout the country (including Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and New York), there are still many misconceptions about raising hen chickens, ducks, and dwarf dairy goats in an urban setting. I want to share the following information with you:

- Removing the financial and bureaucratic barriers to the keeping of backyard Food-Producing Animals will have multiple benefits. It will result in improved access to healthy and affordable protein to Denver families, provide an alternative to industrially-produced food, and provide a way for our city's residents to participate in a sustainable local food system.

- Community Planning and Development, the Department of Environmental Health (including the Director of Animal Control), and the City Attorney's office all support the draft outline for a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance.

- Cities across the country have successfully adopted Food-Producing Animals ordinances, including some cities that allow these animals without a permit. DePaul University conducted a study of 23 cities across the country to investigate the impact of chicken ordinances, and found that cities rated the impact of the ordiance as either "positive" or "neutral" (link to the study at http://www.sustainablefooddenver.org). The adoption of FPA ordinances has not been shown to burden city agencies or increase enforcement costs.

-  The adoption of FPA ordinances has also not been shown to increase the incidence of small mammal predators within a city. The proposed Denver ordinance requires that FPA owners have a predator-proof enclosure for their animals, and there are additional measures that owners can take to protect their animals from predators. However, every Denver resident knows that predators are a fact of life in the city. Our current garbage collection system (with dead chickens in every dumpster in Denver) ensures that our predators have a consistent food supply.

- There are multiple avenues for FPA owners to "re-home" unwanted animals. Denver is surrounded by rural areas, and many "country folks" are typically more than happy to take FPAs (they do provide food, after all).

- The proposed FPA ordinance specifically prohibits the slaughtering of animals in residential districts. Slaughtering is illegal now, and it would be illegal if the ordinance passes.

To read the draft outline for the FPA ordinance, and for additional information, go to http://www.sustainablefooddenver.org

As a resident of your (council district/neighborhood), I strongly urge you to support Food-Producing Animals in Denver!

(your name)
(your address would be helpful)

You're Invited: Denver Food-Producing Animals Forum!

Please join Grow Local Colorado, Slow Food Denver, Sustainable Food Denver, and CROP (Campus Raised Organic Produce - a UCD student group) for an educational forum regarding Food-Producing Animals (FPAs) in Denver.

When: Monday, March 7th, 6:00-7:30pm
Where: The Tivoli at Auraria Campus, Room 320s

There is great impetus now in Denver to change the permitting process for having FPAs. The city has heard that the current permitting process is unclear, lengthy and expensive and that there is concern about the requirement of neighborhood notification. There is a draft outline for a new FPA ordinance that was prepared as a collaborative effort with Denver Community Planning and Development (zoning), the Department of Environmental Health (animal control), Sustainable Food Denver and the City Attorney's office.

Come join us to hear about the current process, the proposed ordinance and have a chance to ask questions and comment about FPAs in the City of Denver.

To read a DRAFT outline of the proposed ordinance, please click here.

You can RSVP for the event by contacting Dana at pompomdana@comcast.net. However, feel free to come even if you haven't RSVP'd!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Sustainable Food Denver in the ATTRA Newsletter

I'm a big fan of ATTRA (the National Sustainable Sustainable Agriculture Information Service). If you haven't visited their website, I'd highly recommend that you check it out. It's chock-full of helpful, well-researched info about sustainable ag.

It was quite a nice surprise to see a mention of the Food-Producing Animals draft outline in the February 16th ATTRA Weekly Harvest newsletter. Here's what they reported:
Food-Producing Animal Ordinance Drafted for Denver
Sustainable Food Denver is circulating a draft outline for a new Food-Producing Animals ordinance for Denver, prepared as a collaborative effort with Community Planning and Development, the Department of Environmental Health, and the City Attorney's office. The draft outline proposes the keeping of 8 female fowl or 2 dwarf dairy goats without requiring a permit. The intent of the draft ordinance is to 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. 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 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.

Glad that word is spreading!

Urban Homesteading, on an Urban Homestead

I am an urban homesteader. You might be, too. If you live in a city and grow or produce some of what you eat, that's urban homesteading. If you like to make things from scratch instead of buying them at the store -- cleaning products, candles, cheese, soap -- that's urban homesteading. If you use solar power, capture some of your bathwater to irrigate your garden, or repurpose old items -- that's also urban homesteading.

Who invented urban homesteading?? I know that sounds like a ridiculous question. The truth is that people have been homesteading in cities for as long as they've been living in cities. Growing gardens, raising backyard chickens, canning vegetables and jam -- these are things that people have always done, wherever they've lived.
At any rate, one thing most people can agree on is that the prevalence of urban homesteading is good thing -- both for individuals and for the health of the general society. There are tons and tons of websites and blogs, plus a fair number of books and magazines, that address this topic. As someone who incorporates urban homesteading into both her personal and professional life, I think that this is terrific. The more people talking, teaching, and sharing about urban homesteading -- and all of the sustainable, healthy activities that go with it -- the better!

The reason that my identity as an urban homesteader (and likely yours, too) is in question can be found in this article posted on the OC Weekly website. A family in California has trademarked the terms "urban homestead" and "urban homesteading" (among others). And, very unfortunately, they've set about the task of shutting down the Facebook pages of writers and businesses who incorporate the words "urban homesteading" into what they do, and they've sent what are essentially cease and desist letters to other organizations as well. Including, for example, the Santa Monica Public Library, because they offered a free event on urban homesteading.
The presumption that someone can "own" the commonly used term (which folks have found references to dating back at least to the 1970s) of urban homesteading has -- shall we say -- not gone over well. Let me be clear that I support everyone's right to the protection of their specific writings and photographs. However, we are NOT talking about blatant plagiarism. We are talking about a widely used phrase that many people feel accurately describes their lifestyle. Plus, unfortunately, the family pursuing the trademark has a history of not just claiming ownership of the words "urban homesteading," but of the factual information about urban homesteading itself. No one owns the fact that beets can be planted 4 inches apart or that chickens enjoy eating curdled milk. Similarly, no one owns the basic tenants of living sustainably in an urban setting.

Sadly, this family's actions have consequences that go beyond picking on bloggers or public libraries. For example, the city that I live in has just one year-round farmers' market. It is a locally owned small business, and the folks who sell at the market are local small farmers and producers. This market has "urban homesteading" in its name, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the California family that is claiming the trademark. However, since the market's name contains the words "urban homesteading," its Facebook page was summarily removed this week. The page had thousands of customers connected to it, and the market's owner used the page each week to talk about the products the vendors were bringing to market, special events, etc. The market -- and, by extension, the local farmers and producers -- are going to suffer because the market's owner has lost the main way that he communicates with his customers. That is real, tangible damage to folks' livelihoods. Not ok at all.

There is a Facebook group that has been established to organize those who oppose the trademark and its subsequent shutdown of websites. Also, if you'd like to post a review of their business on Google, you can do so here. There are also a number of other folks who have posted on the "I Am An Urban Homesteader" theme:


Sunday, February 20, 2011

Growing Our Urban AgriCULTURE Potluck and Networking

Saturday, March 5th
3:30 - 6:00
The GrowHaus
4751 York Street in Denver
3:30 -- Tour of The GrowHaus
4:00 -- Potluck and networking

Event is being coordinated by Grow Local Colorado and The GrowHaus. $5 suggested donation to benefit Grow Local Colorado and The GrowHaus.

More info from the invite:
The Denver Metro area is a hotbed of interesting and inspiring urban agriculture advocates and sustainable food projects. From aquaponics to hydroponics to indoor farmers' markets to permaculture gardens, the list of innovative efforts to create a robust local food system just keep GROWING. Connect with other pioneers in the local food movement and grow our urban agriCULTURE.

What to bring: Yummy food and libations to share. Think "Colorado" when deciding what to bring. This event is Zero Waste. Please bring your own plate, silverware, napkin and glass. You can also bring information to share for the community table.

RSVP by March 1st to Dana Miller at pompomdana@comcast.net

Friday, February 11, 2011

Action Alert: Contact Your Neighborhood Organization!

(Scroll down to the Action Alert to read about how you can help, including a sample email.)

Our efforts to pass a comprehensive Food-Producing Animals ordinance (which would allow Denver residents to keep up to 8 hen chickens and 2 dwarf dairy goats without an expensive permit) is going well.

Right now we're in major community outreach mode, or as one of the participants in the process calls it -- "Outreach-a-Palooza!" Sustainable Food Denver has been contacting neighborhood organizations throughout the city, as well as other community groups (like moms' groups). Our goals are to let them know about the ordinance, to answer any questions they have, and to collect feedback that we can use to make the ordinance better. Besides the obvious benefits of working with the community before passing any new laws, it's also important to get the neighborhood organizations on board if we expect our City Council to pass the ordinance. 

There's an especially effective way to reach out to neighborhood organizations -- if everyone who supports backyard Food-Producing Animals contacts their neighborhood organization and asks them to get behind the ordinance. The Registered Neighborhood Organziations (RNO) exist to represent *you* -- the resident. Let them know your thoughts on this issue!

ACTION ALERT -- Here's what you can do:

1. If you don't know which RNO represents your neighborhood (or don't have their email address), click here for that information. The form will ask you to enter your address, and then it will give you a list of the RNOs for your area, plus their contact information.

2. Send your RNO an email explaining that you live in their neighborhood, and you would like them to support the Food-Producing Animals ordinance. (If you'd like, you can direct them to the ordinance online by asking them to go to http://www.sustainablefooddenver.org and clicking "Animals" ) Share with them why you would like to see a limited number of backyard chickens and dwarf goats allowed without a permit. Your reasons could be based on health, food safety & security, economics, environmental concerns, or all of the above!

3. Share this email with your friends -- ask them to join in the effort to support healthy food in our city!

If it's helpful to you, I've composed a sample email that you can use -- or edit -- as you see fit. Thank you for taking the time to contact your RNO about this issue. This kind of community work is very important!
Dear [name of neighborhood organization],

My name is _______, and I am a resident of [neighborhood]. I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the new Food-Producing Animals (hen chickens and dwarf dairy goats) ordinance that is being proposed by Councilman Nevitt, in conjunction with CPD, Animal Control, and the City Attorney's office. I hope that [name of neighborhood organization] will join me in supporting the ordinance, and asking City Council for its passage.

Denver residents are currently allowed to keep chickens and dwarf goats in their backyards. However, the permitting process that's required to keep these animals legally is incredibly expensive and bureaucratic. The cost and amount of process involved is completely out of step with what is required for other types of animals in Denver -- dogs, cats, pigeons, snakes, etc. And yet, hen chickens (not roosters) and dwarf dairy goats provide affordable, healthy food for families. Plus, they're quieter and safer than many of the other types of animals I mentioned.

Denver isn't alone in wanting to make this change. Other cities -- like Seattle, Portland, New York City, Chicago, and many others -- have more progressive Food-Producing Animals policies than we do. I don't believe that people should be able to own these animals without any sort of restrictions at all. However, the draft ordinance that has been created is kind of like what was passed a few years ago for backyard beekeeping. It allows a limited number of animals without a permit, but gives guidelines as to how the animals should be kept. Plus, the city's noise, odor, nuisance, and animal abuse guidelines will definitely apply to backyard Food-Producing Animals.

You can read the draft outline for a new ordinance by clicking going to http://www.sustainablefooddenver.org and clicking on the "Animals" section. If you're interested, you can also click here to see a study conducted by DePaul University on the impact of allowing chickens in cities: http://bit.ly/gN1Akw

I know that neighborhood organizations are an important part of the city process. You are the voice for the residents of the [name of neighborhood] neighborhood. I ask you to get behind the proposed Food-Producing Animals ordinance, as way to promote sensible and sustainable policies for our cities.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I know Sustainable Food Denver (http://www.sustainablefooddenver.org) is actively soliciting feedback from neighborhood organizations. They're also happy to come out and talk with your group about this issue, and answer any questions you may have.


[Your name]
[your address would be helpful, so they know you truly live in their neighborhood]

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Wash Park Profile: Sustainable Food Policy is More Than Chickens and Goats

We are thrilled about this article -- Sustainable Food Policy is More Than Chickens and Goats -- by Paul Kashmann for the Wash Park Profile. He talks about some of the goals for Denver's newly formed Sustainable Food Policy Council, and discusses why such a council is needed. He also delves into one of the issues that has come to the forefront, which is the ability of Denver residents to keep backyard Food-Producing Animals (hen chickens and dwarf dairy goats).

So happy to see our city's sustainable food issues addressed in such a thoughtful way! Please click here to read the article, and share it with your friends!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

RiNo Supports New Food-Producing Animals Draft Ordinance!

The River North Art District (RiNo) has officially informed our City Council that they support the draft outline of a new Food-Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance. We are thrilled that they have thrown their support behind this measure, and appreciate that they took the time to make their feelings known to City Council. See letter below.

Do you belong to a community group -- a neighborhood organization, mother's group, etc -- that supports a comprehensive FPA ordinance? Do you belong to a group that might support it, but needs more information? If so, please contact Sundari at sustainablefooddenver@gmail.com

Dear City Council Members,

Please accept this letter on behalf of Sustainable Food Denver. The River North Art District and its membership are in complete support of the draft outline attached for a new Food-Producing Animals (FPA) ordinance for Denver.

Several of our members live and work in the district and have voiced that these new additions to the current ordinance would be extremely helpful in raising their own food. Some of our members are currently keeping chickens in compliance with the current permit based ordinance. They have raised concerns on the costs involved in keeping their animals as well as the bureaucratic process involved. With the current ordinance its cost prohibitive to keep these animals; this is hard on the low income members of our community. With these new changes it will be much easier for families and individuals in the River North Art District to raise their own food.

Having the ability for families to raise these animals for an added food source is very important to us. The district also houses several gardens in the area that generate produce. We would like to make the process easier and less expensive to raise food producing animals.

There will be economic benefits created from raising chickens and goats as well as health and food safety benefits for our residents and visitors. We encourage you to support these changes.
Please feel free to give me a call if you have any questions at ______.

Tracy Weil
Co-Founder & President of the River North Art District
Registered Neighborhood Organization