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Legalization of urban chickens shows desire for integrated, secure food systems

As the Housing Appeals Board and City Commission return to the debate about urban chickens, I share a few reasons I think Grand Rapids should introduce these utilitarian pets into their neighborhoods.

/Eric Tank

Share your thoughts with City officials

What do you think about permitting hens in the city limits of Grand Rapids? 

The Housing Appeals Board will be discussing urban chickens on Wednesday, September 10. Let them know if and why you are for or against urban chicken keeping.

The City Commission will be bringing the ordinance to the table as early as this month. Contact your City Commissioner to let them know where you stand.

Editor's note: Joel Salatin, author of multiple books and a third-generation alternative farmer and sought-after conference speaker, has become known as "America's most influential farmer" after public discovery of his work thanks to Michael Pollan’s bestselling book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Salatin has discussed urban chicken with us at The Rapidian before. When he heard of the upcoming debate on chicken keeping being revived in Grand Rapids, he wrote to us to share his thoughts with our City Commissioners- and our residents as a whole- on what he thinks about keeping chickens in an urban environment. 


Perhaps nothing indicates a community's desire for integrated, secure food systems as succinctly and dramatically as urban chickens.

If roosters are excluded, chickens are far quieter than dogs and certainly provide more utility than any pet. That our society views them as farm animals shows the level of segregated thinking by people who have never enjoyed the companionship and antics of domestic fowl. One average dog generates more manure than 11 chickens, and the dog manure is far more toxic and pathogenic.

Utilitarian pets are certainly as human companionable as non-utilitarian pets, be they dogs, cats, parakeets or boa constrictors. Assuming that utilitarian animals cannot be pets indicates both ignorance and elitism. Why can't an animal be both? In a time of scarcity, multi-use should be encouraged, not discouraged. If a pet can also serve a utilitarian function, it's wonderful.

And what utilitarian function could a chicken offer, you may ask? Consider that chickens eat kitchen scraps- yes, food wastes. Those thousands and thousands of tons of yucky, wet potato peelings and soup scrapings that end up dripping out of garbage trucks on their way to
the landfill. Chickens think such things are like fresh Michigan cherries, and eat them with relish. The ultimate domestic recycler, not only do chickens eat garbage; they turn it into eggs. This encourages a self-sufficient household, which I would argue is the foundation of a self-sufficient
city and a self-sufficient society.

Perhaps the most independent-minded, democratic-styled policy any city could create is one that encourages householders to domicile a few chickens: pet, recycler, food provider. And if they're allowed to roam in the yard once in awhile, they eat ticks, bugs and other hygienic questionables. Chickens don't prowl around at night- they go to bed early. Really early. About the times you'd like your 8-year-olds in bed. Perhaps in that vein, chickens can be seen as a wonderful role model for our youth. They also get up early- really early. Tada! Another role model. Without a rooster, however, their early rising doesn't disturb anybody.

Any city, village or hamlet that jumps on the home-chicken tsunami shows a love for food freedom, ultimate food democratization and a can-do spirit toward self-sufficiency. What's not to love about that?

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