rough notes

Halifax and the Chickens 2: The Old Guard

with 3 comments

[Addendum, 25 Feb 2008: the cornucopia of awesomeness is not without its errors, or its insightful readers who help point out our mistakes (see John van Gurp’s corrections (Comment No. 2) below for details). i happily accept all corrections. on this one in particular, i freely admit that i’ve conflated my recent dismay with local councillor Sheila Fougere with this touchstone issue of urban farming in Halifax, NS. keep posted for more insightful commentary (insightful in that it betrays my own biases) regarding urban governance. in the mean time, take it all with several grains of salt, and a dash of van Gurp to boot.]

Some extended thoughts today regarding the controversy surrounding Halifax, Louise Hanavan, and her former chickens.

Louise was forced to give away her three chickens to a farm outside of Halifax Hanavan Chicken Halifax, Courtesy CBC.caRegional Municipality’s urban core in order to comply with zone regulations. Her home and neighbourhood is zoned “R-2”, which has a clause restricting the harbouring of chickens and other fowl in one’s backyard. One of her neighbours (who shall remain nameless but whose national fifteen minutes of fame has rendered him Halifax’s Cranky Old Man) was of the mind that Ms. Hanavan’s local, organic operation was bringing rats to the neighbourhood. He claims to have seen a rat at another neighbour’s house and naturally assumed it had to have made its way to West-end Halifax for Ms. Hanavan’s chicken feed. Presumably, now that the chickens have been forced out of town, the rat population will quietly disappear.

Halifax, of course, is a centuries-old port town (see map), with a peninsula bounded by docks, wharves, military slips, rail lines and rail yards. Rats, surely, never live in these areas. As we all know, rats only live in suburban neighbourhoods where one finds chicken feed, and never in these industrial zones. Silly Ms. Hanavan, what were you thinking?

Summaries and snarky comments aside, some of the responses to Ms. Hanavan’s story reveal how conservative Halifax really it. This is a very traditional town that is not all open to even the possibility of change. Sheila Fougere, the local municipal councilor, noted (rightly, in fact), that Ms. Hanavan’s chicken operation is restricted by local by-laws and zoning restrictions. One can’t argue with that – by-laws are by-laws. But the councilor’s suggestion that Ms. Hanavan and other like-minded citizens ought to simply find fresh eggs at the Halifax Farmer’s Market or at a farm outside of town betrays her inability to find pro-active solutions. The councilor may as well have stated, “Why bother fixing outmoded by-laws?”. There’s no thinking outside of the box on this one for Ms. Fougere – Ms. Hanavan should just drive to the market and be done with it.

Of course Ms Hanavan can find fresh eggs at the market, but buying them there is not the point. The Market promotes local, organic, community-minded initiatives that stand in the way of the Sobey’s and Safeways of the North American grocery industry. This is only an assumption, but I’m pretty sure that Halifax’s local farmers would applaud Ms. Hanavan’s urban chicken operation, even if it meant one less person to sell to on a Saturday morning. Sheila Fougere Thinks Hanavan Should Give Up And Just Go To The MarketSheila Fougere’s response has the look and feel of one given to brush the issue aside as soon, and as quietly as possible. Telling Ms. Hanavan to just go to the market, jiggity-jig, is hardly a reasonable accommodation on this one. I’d rather see Ms. Hanavan selling her eggs at the market rather than buying them there. If Ms. Fougere wants to lead the city, or at least her ward, she should find real solutions to the problem, including revisions of the zone regulations.

(It must be noted that Ms. Fougere has been on HRM Council since 1998. Although she understands the mechanics of municipal governance and can work her way through any subcommittee meeting, her incredible length of time holding the seat has nurtured in her a form of municipal and residential relations that advocates personal opportunism and the status quo. This is common in all levels of government: Fougere runs not on a platform of policies and and ideas, but on all the good things that have happened since she’s been in office. This is admirable on one level, but it tends to shut down debate in the long run as the elected “voice of the people” becomes a sage politico who can argue for people to simply trust her experience because she’s been around for some time and simply knows better than any other possible candidate. HRM is not a small town, however. Change in political leadership is healthy; just as she calls for Peter Kelly to leave the Mayor’s Office because he has outlived his tenure, one could ask her to do the same for her own extended stay in municipal government.)

This sense of no-change, no-alterations, traditionalism is not limited to only Sheila Fougere. This past weekend, on Sunday, January 27, 2007, Jim Meek, of the Halifax Chronicle Herald suggested the Louise Hanavan’s Jim Meek thinks that Hanavan and her supporters suffer from political apathychicken coop is unnecessary and that large chicken processing plants are not as harmful to the environment as we like to think they are. He also suggested that a large number of people who support Ms Hanavan don’t participte elections. Perhaps Mr. Meek was attempting create a little balance in the Halifax chicken debate (much of the opinion has been one-sided – I don’t know if the Powers-That-Be are listening, though), but his facts are wrong and his opinions are off-base. First, even if Ms. Hanavan’s supporters do not vote in elections (a ridiculous assumption if there ever was one), they are still entitled to their opinion, and elected officials must still represent them. Second, large-scale slaughter houses are not eco-friendly in any sense of the word. If the likes of Mr. Meek or Ms. Hanavan’s neighbours are afraid of an infestation of rodents in Halifax or even an outbreak of bird flu in North America, they should look first not to the local urban chicken coop, but to the large plants and farms that dot the rural landscape. Louise Hanavan’s three chickens do not affect the environment in the same way that a shed full of thousands of heads of chicken will. For instance, whereas the small-scale farmer can turn gradually turn his manure into fertilizer, large-scale operations often have cesspools of effluent dotting the perimeter of the properties. Mr. Meek needs not even visit such a plant or farm to consider the scale: the next time he buys a pair of boneless, skinless “Maple Lead Prime” or “Lillydale” Chicken from his local grocery store, he should consider the large amount of stock before his eyes – all slaughtered animals – and question where the rest of chicken whose parts he’s buying, as well as the remains of every other chicken, cow, and swine on sale in front of him has gone to. Unlike Maple Leaf Foods, and every other food processor, Lousie Hanavan is being environmentally friendly, (and also is reducing her eco-footprint) by farming on a scale that is manageable and proportionate to her own needs.

As stated elsewhere, other cities allow urban farming. Given the fact that it is a provincial capital, is a coastal urban centre, and is of a relatively similar population., Victoria, British Columbia, has been the go-to example in the case of Halifax v. Chickens. Cities which are much larger than Halifax or Victoria could even deign to be, though, including Seattle, New York, and London, not only permit urban farming, but have by-laws explicitly stating such. Halifax should not just “get with the times” on this issue, but try to move ahead of the curve. What little arable land Nova Scotia has is quickly being turned into a suburban wasteland of asphalt, automobiles, and low population densities. If Halifax wants to consider itself progressive or eco-friendly, it needs to show what its done lately, and what its going to do in the future – shutting down Louise Hanavan’s chicken operation is not the answer. Deeds, not Words, Halifax. Deeds, not Words.

A few links:

My Urban Chickens – Urban Farming put to practice. Great Link.

Urban Hennery – Urban Living with some downtown hens.

Free Range Living – Urban Farming (stale)

Comments are welcomed and encouraged on this matter.

Social Bookmarks:

Written by mitchellirons

January 29, 2008 at 12:43 pm

3 Responses

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  1. hey maybe you can answer this for me since you sound politicaly astute. is this a spoof or real? John McCain

    liz basil

    February 13, 2008 at 10:55 pm

  2. I really like the fact you are blogging about this issue, but your post contains some errors. You are attributing comments to Sheila Fougere that were actually made by the Cranky Old Man who complained. It was Old Man # 1 or one of his two buddies who said Louise should just go to the market like he does. His other point was that his yard isn’t big enough for chickens (at 40′ x 100′). There is no bylaw clause specifically prohibiting chickens. It’s very vague but basically gives the Bylaw office the power to ban just about anything based on a complaint. Louise has been given a reprieve until Feb 29 and the hens are still in her yard. Sheila presented two petitions (with around 1000 signatures) at Community Council on Feb 11 and all 4 peninsula councilors agreed to send the whole thing to Staff for a report and further discussion. That’s exactly what the supporters needed to have her do. It’s probably the only way to make things change. So while Sheila didn’t come right out with supportive statements, she did the right thing. I’m pretty sure she had no idea of the overwhelming level of public support that would become evident in the very short time this was in the press. For background and comments etc search the Facebook site “Petition to allow 3 chickens per residential yard in Halifax”.
    Cheers, John

    John van Gurp

    February 22, 2008 at 1:22 pm

  3. […] readers have previously noted, it is fairly easy to conflate and confuse these two subject (municipal […]

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