Fowl Play Makes a Comeback: The Underground Urban Chicken Renaissance

By Ana Le

An underground urban chicken renaissance is sweeping the United States as a growing number of US city dwellers are raising their own chickens. This grass roots campaign is an extension of urban farming that originated during World War I and II when the US government encouraged people to grow victory gardens, also called “war gardens” or “food gardens for defense” to alleviate pressure on the public food supply. The social cause gained mass recognition ten years ago in London with the invention of the “eglu” chicken house that spurred US city dwellers in Albuquerque, Los Angeles, Portland, San Francisco, and Seattle to raise chickens.

Newsweek reveals how egg bound we are stating that more than 65% of major cities have established chicken keeping ordinances. Considered both a livestock and an amusing pet, the appeal of the homegrown chicken is on the rise due to benefits such as increased food safety, cage-free egg production, boosted reliability, a compost source and reduced carbon emissions, specifically animal waste. The campaign appeals on a cognitive and value level as a necessary educational opportunity for children and communities to learn about local sustainable food. It is also associated with the locavore movement, a group committed to eating foods grown or harvested locally.

A growing area of concern with small-scale backyard chicken farming is the potential for public and environmental health issues. Though noise or odor may be issues, some backyard chicken farmers find tolerant neighbors who appreciate free eggs. Chicken Underground successfully overturned a residential chicken ban in Madison, Wisconsin; opening the door to 81 registered chicken owners according to the city’s animal-services department. The public health threat chickens pose is more of a media spin rather than a pandemic since avian influenza (H5N1) has not been detected in wild birds, domestic poultry or people in the US. Backyard chickens are not a threat if the coop is properly maintained by building a solid roof for the pen to protect the chickens from fecal matter that may drop in from other birds flying overhead. GRAIN, a small international non-profit organization reported, “When it comes to bird flu, diverse small-scale poultry farming is the solution, not the problem.”

The urban chicken-farming craze continues to produce a lot of ink spilled from high profile publications such as Newsweek, The New York Times and USA Today as well as a bevy of chicken centric websites:

Backyard Chickens – guide to raising chickens and building chicken coops

Eggzy – site now in beta, its mission is to “make our food system personal again”

FoodHub – site connects local food buyers and producers

Just as Hens (Portland)- offers a chicken sitting service

Omlet (UK) – sells hen and coop kits for urban or suburban gardens

Rentachook (Australia)– “pet chickens made easy” manufactures a variety of coops and sells “chooks” (aussie speak for chickens)

The positive press and locavore audience continues to add to the biodegradable marketing fuel that drives this movement. It appears this coop is on the right track.

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