Cluck it

The
proposal passed the OKC Planning Commission two weeks ago and will be
introduced to the Oklahoma City Council at its Dec. 3 meeting. A public
hearing and final vote will be Dec. 31.

So
far, the idea has received the endorsement of residents who support
urban agriculture in the city limits. No formal opposition has been
expressed publicly.

However,
the measure is more than backyard chickens. It includes activities
associated with gardening and urban farming such as rainwater
harvesting, composting and installing greenhouses. It’s also about
clarifying city codes.

“The
ordinances are unclear about a lot of this (urban farming),” said
supporter Sara Braden. “For instance, code enforcement officers do not
have clear standards if its junk or debris or a compost pile. A lot of
these amendments will update the code.”

Backyard
chickens are now allowed on lots of one acre or more, but the new
measure would allow up to six hens (no roosters) on any city lot.

Fall in line Southwest
OKC resident Johannah West remembers raising chickens in Maryland as a
child and would like to share the experience with her children.

“Home-grown eggs are the best.

They
taste so much better,” she said. “We had a garden where we used to live
and had several vegetables. I think the whole idea is about
stewardship. We’re supposed to take care of the Earth, and this would
help influence our local food system where food is grown organically.”

Backyard
chickens are allowed in many of OKC’s peer cities, including Kansas
City, St. Louis, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Tulsa and Norman.

“They
make good pets, they eat weeds and insects, they’re quiet during the
day and absolutely silent at night, and they produce eggs,” Braden said.

Braden believes OKC should fall in line with other big-league cities by amending its code to allow chickens in all backyards.

“If
there is a fear Oklahoma City is going to be the laughingstock, then
the fear should be we’re already the laughingstock by not allowing it,”
she said.

Good food Allen
Parleir, an outspoken advocate of urban farming and community
gardening, is part of CommonWealth Urban Farms of OKC, a group that uses
vacant lots in the Central Park neighborhood to grow veggies. Anyone
can sign up to receive a bag of vegetables each week for only $10. Food
pickup is at the urban farm, 3301 N. Olie Ave.

“We grow enough to distribute food to 30 families every Friday,” he said.

Part
of the proposal also would allow home gardens to be planted in the
front, back and side yards. In addition, community gardens and urban
farms could be developed in residential, commercial, office and
industrial zoning districts.

“We’re just trying to catch up with what’s going on in other cities,” Parleir said.
“Home gardens, community gardens, urban farms all bring more wholesome
food and encourage the local food movement. Less fossil fuel is used to
get the food here, it shows good environmental stewardship and it
teaches all ages where food comes from.”

At least one business joined the local food and backyard chicken movement.

Virginia
Kramer, owner of Britton Feed & Seed, previously sold traditional
chicken feed but has added totally organic feed and non-genetically
modified organism (GMO) feed, which contains no corn or soy.

“It’s less expensive, and we want to make sure the chickens are getting good food,” she said.

The council considered the backyard chicken issue in 2011, but the measure did not pass.

“It wasn’t the right time, and more research needed to be done,” Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid said.

With the issue up for debate again, Shadid said, “I think laws must heed the consciousness of the people.”

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