Urban Hens

A group has come together under the name “Bridge City Chickens” to advocate for a pilot project in Saskatoon to keep 3-5 urban hens.

Saskatoon Bridge City Chickens (SBCC) is a coalition of Saskatoon citizens who share a common goal of enhancing local food security by increasing awareness, interest, and participation in local food production systems.

In September 2002, Saskatoon City Council adopted the Saskatoon Food Charter.  The Charter outlines the commitment of the city and its citizens to food security and states in part that to “develop and promote food security in our city, Saskatoon City Council will encourage community gardens, urban agriculture and the recycling of organic materials that nurture soil fertility.”  The charter also documents Saskatoon City Council’s commitment to meeting the goals of national food security and describes the role of citizens participating directly in and promoting food security measures in their homes, their workplaces, (and) their community.

In 2013, Saskatoon released its 10-year strategic plan that detailed its vision for ensuring Saskatoon is a “great place to live, where sustainable growth enables the community to invest for the benefit of all.” The plan was developed through direct and extensive consultations with citizens which resulted in the identification of seven strategic goals that will guide Saskatoon towards becoming a successful city of tomorrow.

Our proposal directly supports two of these strategic goals; environmental leadership and quality of life.

Environmental Leadership: Saskatoon grows in harmony with nature.

“We produce less garbage and recycle or compost most of it. We grow more food in the city.”

A very small flock of chickens can be quiet and sociable pets with significant environmental benefits. Homeowners can feed chickens food waste from their kitchen and compost the chicken manure which can then be used as a rich fertilizer for flower and vegetable beds. Chickens also provide natural pest control consuming ants, grasshoppers, grubs, beetles, ticks, and larvae.

Consider the following information compiled by the Winnipeg Urban Chickens Association:

  • 1 hen consumes 3 kilograms of food waste per month
  • 5 hens per household = 15 kilograms of food waste consumed per month
  • 15 kilograms x 30 pilot participants = 450 kilograms of food waste consumed per month
  • 450 kilograms consumed per month x 18 months = 8,100 kilograms of food waste consumed and diverted from the landfill

The municipal savings in not having to handle, transport, and store the food waste diverted from the pilot project is significant.

Quality of Life: Saskatoon is a warm, welcoming people place

As a community, we find new and creative ways to showcase our city’s built, natural, and cultural heritage. People are actively engaged in the future and governance of their city”

There are numerous physical and social, benefits to keeping backyard hens. Physically, hens encourage people to spend more time outdoors and produce nutrient-rich eggs.  Socially, hens can encourage communication between neighbours and break down barriers. Natalie Carreiro, from the University of Manitoba, recently (2015) conducted a study and found four main reasons people wanted  backyard hens: a) food-related, b) to create learning opportunities, c) as a leisure activity and as “pets with benefits,” and d) politically inspired reasons (i.e. to demonstrate disapproval with what they perceived as an unfair bylaw). She reported that study participants talked about feeling more connected to neighbours, describing the experience as “neighbour bonding,” because they are a conversation piece, and through the sharing of eggs or manure. Neighbours frequently wanted to learn about the chickens. Carreiro reported stories of how hens made neighbourhoods better:

The neighbours all enjoy looking over the fence and asking me how the girls are doing, how are the eggs coming. It’s a neighbourhood project, really. Everybody has got a little curiosity. They don’t want chickens themselves, but it’s an interesting thing . . . How are they doing? Are they happy? . . . We talk over the fence, kibbutz back and forth. We enjoy it.

I would know that people had been back there when I came home because there would be a sweater that wasn’t mine that would be lying over the chair. And then a couple days later they would come back and get their sweater [laughing]. Yeah! Isn’t that crazy?! . . . Like they would come over and they would sit there you know for an hour or whatever just to chill out in the backyard watching the chickens . . . They loved those darn chickens . . . It was shocking! I think that was good for our neighbourhood. Like, that wasn’t, that wasn’t the reason that I got them! But they made this neighbourhood better! . . . If I get chickens again people will be really, really happy.

Chickens provide a good lesson in food production while entertaining the whole family.

PILOT TERMS

To ensure the pilot project is manageable, it would be restricted to 30 households located within the neighbourhoods whose community associations have offered their support. This includes: Riversdale, King George, Holliston, Hudson Bay Park/Mayfair/Kelsey-Woodlawn, Nutana, and Mount Royal. The list is growing!

The pilot project would last for an 18-month period after which the outcomes will be assessed and summarized in a report to council. Based on the results of the pilot, it is anticipated that Council would vote on permanently modifying the Animal Control Bylaw, 1999, No 7860 (https://www.saskatoon.ca/sites/default/files/documents/city-clerk/bylaws/7860.pdf) to allow hen keeping within city limits.

MEASURING SUCCESS

There have been few studies on benefits or challenges of keeping urban hens. As part of the pilot project, it would be important to track the expectations and experiences of participants. If the pilot is adopted by the City of Saskatoon, Dr. Martin would work with partners at the University of Saskatchewan and the Bridge City Chickens group to identify measurable indicators to better understand the return on investment of urban hens. This would include social indicators, food literacy, economic indicators (both on part of the hen owner and the City of Saskatoon), and the food environment.  It would also be important to capture dissenting voices, as people who express concern can add alternative views that can strengthen the final bylaw changes should the pilot project be successful.

Do you want to be involved? 

Contact your city councilor and let them know you are interested. Leave a message at  skbridgecitychickens@gmail.com and we will put you on the list if the pilot project is approved. We take this to City of Saskatoon Standing Policy Committee on Planning, Development & Community Services on April 3rd, 2017.

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