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White picket fences and fresh eggs?

Vancouver City Council recently directed staff to develop policy guidelines to let city dwellers keep chickens in their backyards, which is probably a thrill for local food aficionados and urban agriculture advocates. The Globe and Mail article tallies up the cost of keeping the birds, including food, scratch, shell and grit, hay, shavings, and startup costs. Their cost comparison between home-grown and store-bought eggs is as follows:

  • 18 cents/egg for a backyard chicken (assuming 270 eggs per year and an annual upkeep of $49.80)
  • 45 cents/egg for SPCA-certified, cage-free and vegetarian fed eggs at Capers
  • 20 cents/egg for medium eggs at Safeway

Victoria and several other municipalities in the Lower Mainland already allow urban chickens. Seattle and Portland also allow the birds, and Seattle even allows miniature goats. The Vancouver policy will be developed with the City’s Food Policy Council, whose other initiatives include encouraging more food-producing gardens, allowing urban beekeeping (apiculture), and the Grow a Row Share a Row program, which encourages households to grow an extra row of vegetables for the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society and Neighbourhood Houses. Other contributors to policy development will be the SPCA, the Humane Society, other municipalities and local health authorities.  

The SPCA and the BC Poultry Association have already raised concerns, arguing that people might not know how to care for the chickens, or that they could spread diseases like avian flu. Of course, the SPCA certifies farms that take good care of their chickens, and the BC Poultry Association obviously advocates the ownership of chickens…just not by Jane Q. Public. Wouldn’t want to disturb the consumption cycle.

The backyard chickens policy, and other urban agriculture policies, have risen to the forefront of the media in the past two years, particularly as food shortages have affected countries like Italy and Mexico. Increased land devoted to growing corn for ethanol, political instability, international trade agreements, and climate change are some of the factors behind food scarcity. In the midst of this revelation, the Vancouver Food Policy Council adopted its Food Charter, which has five principles:

  • Community Economic Development 
  • Ecological Health 
  • Social Justice
  • Collaboration and participation
  • Celebration

Its goal is to get consumers to purchase more locally produced food, regional farmers to direct more of their production to local markets, restaurateurs to feature more local, sustainable food on menus, food retailers to shift more of their inventory to local and sustainably produced food, increased levels of “edible gardening” in the City of Vancouver, and enhanced backyard and neighbourhood level composting and recovery of edible food. Provided that human and bird health concerns are addressed, the backyard chickens policy seems like a good way to ensure residents have access to fresh, affordable food.


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