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Guest: City should bring back debate on urban chickens

BY ALICIA AMBLER - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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In late 2009, several Iowa City residents presented a petition to the City Council with approximately 700 signatures requesting a review of the city ban on chickens in city limits. After selecting a new mayor, the council came to the conclusion that the majority of councilors are against overturning the ban and that this justifies removing the discussion from the council’s agenda. I would like to refute some of the arguments against urban chickens and present some compelling reasons that the council — and the city — ought to give urban chickens a chance.

When the discussion of urban chickens first started in Iowa City, then-Mayor Regenia Bailey was quoted in a USA Today article (“Chickens Come Home to Roost in Backyards around the USA,” Nov. 8) as opposing urban chickens for two reasons: First, she cited college students’ reputation for leaving pets behind when they leave their temporary living situations. This point is easily refuted by noting that, unlike most other pets, chickens can be eaten when they no longer serve their purpose as companions.

Second, Bailey was quoted suggesting that urban chickens undermine local economies, saying, “We have a lot of small farmers around here making chickens and eggs available for sale. My fundamental question is: Why aren’t we supporting the regional economy?”

I would argue that urban chickens would in fact strengthen Iowa’s economy, especially when we consider unique and important businesses such as the McMurry Hatchery in Webster City, known nationally for its collection of rare chicken breeds. Likewise, I highly doubt Bailey would make such an argument when considering whether citizens ought to be allowed to have vegetable gardens.

Many people have suggested that chickens shouldn’t be allowed within city limits because they are noisy, messy, and spread disease. I would address the first two parts of this argument by asking citizens to reflect on the acceptance of dogs in our community. They are significantly louder than hens (not to be confused with roosters, which are generally not allowed in areas that allow urban chickens) and produce much more waste. In fact, chickens consume kitchen scraps, and their bodily waste is a beneficial fertilizer for gardens and lawns. As with all animals, care and education of the handler can prevent chickens from disease.

The arguments in favor of allowing urban chickens are far too numerous to be listed here, but I’d like to address at least a few of them. First, urban chickens are a source of high-quality, safe protein at a very low cost. While this may seem trivial, the recent flood of contaminants and subsequent recalls should make it clear that our food system is not as safe as we’d like to think. Having such a valuable food source within city limits would reduce transportation costs, thus cutting pollution and saving money. As I mentioned before, chickens easily work in tandem with existing backyard gardens, improving the quality of soil and reducing pests.

Finally, I firmly believe that allowing urban chickens would be a strong reflection of the kind of city we like to think we have, one in which the councilors are reasonable and open to the needs and wants of their constituents and in which independent thought and action are valued and fresh perspective rewarded.

Please join me in asking the council to reconsider, and put some Iowa back in Iowa City.

Alicia Ambler is an Iowa City resident. Those interested can sign a petition at www.ipetitions.com/petition/ icurbanchickens.


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