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Local group fights to raise backyard hens

A local agriculture support group is hatching a campaign it hopes will persuade council to allow people to raise chickens in their own backyards.

The group, spearheaded by former councillor Morgan Ostler, who sat on the city’s Agriculture Advisory Committee, and Kira DeSorcey, a food sovereignty activist, is launching a petition it hopes will garner support for urban poultry.

Ostler said it’s concerning that Campbell River relies on imports for its food supply but that there are options to reverse that trend.

“It’s all part of becoming sustainable,” Ostler said. “Campbell River is almost wholly dependent on trucks coming in every day and unloading food to the stores. It ties in with the whole picture of food security and food sustainability.”

Not only that, for a family raising a flock of chickens that becomes a valuable learning tool.

“We need to learn where our food comes from, and we need to provide this opportunity for our children,” DeSorcey said. “We are a food desert here in Campbell River. We need more people farming or growing their own food, and to achieve this we need to remove some of the barriers. We need to allow options for individuals and families to seek cleaner food sources.”

A petition will be at Healthyway Natural Foods Market for those in support to sign.

Ostler is confident there will be little opposition when the group presents the petition and lobbies for the bylaw in front of city council on Jan. 22.

“We don’t expect there will be resistance, it’s all part of our Sustainable Official Community Plan. Why would we not be supported?” said Ostler. “We’re confident council will support it. It reflects what the community wants.”

In fact, DeSorcey said there are people who already have backyard hens, though it’s not technically allowed in urban areas.

“There’s a lot more folks in the closet about having hidden hens in our community than you might think,” DeSorcey said.

The city’s former Environmental Advisory Committee tried in January 2010 to make it legal for those people but the city council of the day refused to take the commission’s suggestion to hold an open house to gauge support before the city’s Agriculture Plan was complete.

Now the plan is written, and has been included in the SOCP which actually encourages backyard poultry. “The keeping of poultry (and bees) is generally supported in the SOCP,” reads the plan.

Peter Woods, who was the chair of the former Environmental Advisory Committee, said earlier this year he would bring the issue back to council if the SOCP supported backyard poultry. Now he’s fulfilling that promise and lobbying for a bylaw to allow urban households to raise their own chickens.

“The rewards (of raising poultry) are many,” Woods said. “Children discover a sense of responsibility in looking after a small flock. They begin to understand the origins of food and how it’s important to recognize compassion and ethics around food consumption.”

But when the issue was brought to light two years ago, some were concerned that having their neighbours raising chickens would attract rodents.

DeSorcey said that while she understands their concerns, that is a false stigma.

“Urban chickens will not attract rats, in fact they are more likely to deter rats,” she said. “Careless food storage, however, does attract rats. A dog owner who is careless with the storage of food will also attract rats. One need not keep chickens to attract rats.”

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