By PAT WATSON
My grandmother in Jamaica had a chicken coop in the backyard. Decades on, I still remember the rich taste of the eggs that came from those chickens. In fact, my grandmother’s place in Kingston had a rich, growing food supply. Food bearing trees included breadfruit, avocado, grapefruit, limes, ackee, and mangoes. Space will not permit the whole range. There were all kinds of beans and edible plants and roots as well.
Immigrants to Toronto brought with them some of the same edible gardening culture as practiced in the old country. Summer into fall is the best time for sharing, neighbour-to-neighbour, the abundance that grows quickly. There is just such pleasure in the rich flavour and higher nutritional value of homegrown cucumbers, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes and potatoes for instance.
I mention this because there is a debate going on in Toronto about allowing raising of chickens in backyards.
Many activities that would be healthy and community building are forbidden in this city where hyper-caution is a reflexive response to so much that is just commonsense. Therefore, in typical Toronto Council fashion, a pilot project will be launched. How much do you suppose the environmental assessment study will cost?
There is hardly the need to run a pilot project for a home-based activity that is millennia old. But, if councillors want to create a few positions for backyard health inspectors, then okay.
But, recall the pilot project that was run a few years ago on ‘ethnic’ food carts, which was micro-managed into failure. If City Council starts insisting that coops and other related equipment be bought only from council mandated suppliers, then flags should start going up.
If this goes forward though, anticipate that the city will likely require permits that will cost a fee.
Aside from political meddling, one concern about raising chickens in backyards in Toronto has to do with land ownership. The scramble to purchase residential real estate and the forbidding price tags attached to houses with land space would mean the possibility for eating fresh, free-range eggs then becomes a class issue.
Imagine that a longtime cultural practice among peasant people could move up the social status ladder and sit next to other markers like owning a Labrador retriever or being able to afford a third or fourth child.
Already, the talk on Council regarding the pilot project is selection of wards where homes have enough backyard space. Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore would be included since Justin Di Ciano, councilor for that ward, brought forward the motion for the pilot project.
The vote on this pilot project would have taken place by now, but was delayed when the last council meeting before the summer break ended early upon news of the death of Councillor Pam McConnell. Now, the vote won’t take place until this fall, with the pilot project not coming until next spring.
In the meantime, backyard chicken lawbreakers would be well to organize to ensure they have strong advocacy to support backyard freedom.
Let City Hall know all about the benefits of raising chickens and how much they fit into the home gardening ecology. They control bugs in the garden and chicken waste is very good fertilizer enriching the soil for food plants in the home garden. Furthermore, hens are not noisy. And, the closer we are to nature the more respectful we are of it.
With the growing threat of global warming, which is a consequence of human disconnection from our natural environment, that respect is urgently needed.