Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Chicken Activist's Letter to Scott Matheson

I belong to an grass-roots network, 4 Chesapeake Hens, that is trying to change local zoning laws to allow more residents to keep backyard laying hens. Here is a letter emailed to a member of City Council as a part of this ongoing effort.

Dear Scott W. Matheson:

Common wisdom states that whoever “controls the food supply controls the people; who controls the energy can control whole continents; who controls money can control the world."

I belong to a grass-roots organization called “4 Chesapeake Hens.” Our quest for backyard laying hens is an effort by “we the people” to control where our own money goes, to make a small dent in the world’s petroleum consumption by eating as locally as our own backyards, and to take control of our food supply for our own health, safety, and happiness.

Some may argue that hens should be restricted due to urban density. But a retired basketball player, Will Allen, established a non-profit organization, “Growing Power,” that proves otherwise. “Growing Power” is located in the major city of Milwaukee, the 28th most populous city in the United States. 
Will Allen
A successful author, Allen is a recipient of a MacArthur Genius Award and was named one of the top 100 “people who most affect our world” in Time magazine in 2010. His organization operates an urban mini-farm on two acres, a lot no bigger than that of a small supermarket. People from all over the world come to learn how “Growing Power” manages to successfully raise over 20,000 plants, vegetables, and livestock such as worms, bees, goats, rabbits, and chickens so intensively and successfully on such a small lot. In a world facing economic hardship, peak oil, global warming, and the twin crises of food insecurity and alarming obesity rates, many see Allen’s growing methods as instrumental to solving some of the problems that we as a society are facing. As Allen puts it:

Everybody, regardless of their economic means, should have access
to the same healthy, safe, affordable food that is grown naturally (source).

Or as Time puts it:

A new movement is sprouting up in America's low-income neighborhoods.
Some urban residents, sick of fast food and the scarcity of grocery stores, have decided to grow good food for themselves. (ibid.)

“Growing Power” runs youth programs for inner-city youth that are so (sic) inspiring and effective. In January Allen earned national recognition for his efforts from the National Education Association (

What does this have to do with Chesapeake?

Our contention is that, just as residents of Brooklyn, the Bronx, Chicago, and even Milwaukee can raise chickens legally, so can we here, given fair and just zoning laws. Changes to our zoning laws will allow us residents to feed ourselves better and to teach our youth the value of sustaining ourselves in an ecologically sound and humane manner. Through 4-H and other programs, the youth of Chesapeake will learn valuable economic and science lessons as well as learn where our food comes from.

Please change the zoning laws in Chesapeake to allow residents to keep up to six laying hens as pets. Open the door to residents and change-makers, perhaps even a future Will Allen, to make hens a part of our future urban farming efforts.

 Update: On November 20, Chesapeake City Council voted 6-3 to allow hens with certain restriction in residential areas.

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