Sunday, December 13, 2009

On the Barnyard Stigma of Urban Chickens


Today's Sacramento Bee carries an article discussing efforts to legalize chickens within Sacramento city limits. It's yet another well-written story detailing the advantages of keeping backyard chickens (sustainability, locavorism, nutrition, etc) while touching on the downsides (none?) aside from dealing with ignorance regarding the hows and whys of keeping urban chickens.

The story lede caught my eye, though, as I feel it hits the main stumbling block to legalizing chickens dead-on (emphasis mine): "Sacramento leaders have spent a generation trying to shed the city's cow-town stigma. Now they are facing a movement that wants to turn the capital into chicken city." One simply can't underestimate people's desire to prove they're no longer farm folk, even in a city as big as Sacramento, the capital of California, with a population of over 437,000.

Chickens, for better or worse, still strongly represent the rural roots that many moved into the city to escape. In any story of the urban chicken movement, look at the opposition quotes of anyone over the age of 50 and you'll see them recounting the days when they used have to take care of (nasty, pesky, stinky) chickens on the farm and why the [expletive] would anyone want to do that to their backyard willingly?

More to the point, simply take a look at the municipal codes pertaining to urban chickens and more likely than not, chickens are lumped in with all other manner of barnyard creatures (goats, sheep, cows, horses, etc) who've been banned within city limits.

So, the quest to legalize urban chickens isn't just a logical one. If it were, there'd be no contest. When you compare the attributes of chickens and dogs, you have to wonder why the dirtier, smellier, messier, furry one is legal everywhere.

The challenge in legalizing chickens in your backyard is one of convincing city councils that different animals have different attributes and can't all be conveniently lumped into a single banned category. And mentally separating chickens from their barnyard brethren isn't an easy thing to do with anyone who's marking progress based on physical distance between city center and the nearest pile of manure.

But it can be done, and the list of places that are doing it keeps growing. Won't you add your own?

Photo credit Overdaforest on Flickr

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

It's so true, especially here in Iowa where we are the largest egg producing state. We are trying to change the law in Cedar Rapids to allow a few hens. Invariably, it is the 60 and over crowd that took care of the chickens as a child that are dead-set against having chickens in town. It has been quite an educational process.

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