New Orleans Food Justice Conference: What’s up with backyard chickens?

By Eartha Steward
Summit Daily News

Just yesterday I was standing in an urban jungle of purple and white, zebra-striped eggplants. I remember staring at the perfect vegetables as if they were ornaments on a Christmas tree. At my feet were rows and rows of arugula, red beans and the first signs of onion sprouts. At my side, a camouflaged hive happily buzzing as thousands of bees hopped from blossom to blossom. The strange cluck cluck of feathery creatures echoed from the corner of the garden. I could feel the energy of this bustling backyard masterpiece.

You could have guessed I was on a farm in the middle of Vermont, but the loud sirens of a police car (the fifth that day) jolted me back to the real surroundings of skyscrapers, dilapidated houses and graffiti-covered walls. Who knew that after a handful of devastating hurricanes and an oil disaster beyond our imaginations, New Orleans would find so much promise in community gardens and backyard chickens!

In New Orleans this past week was a gathering of food enthusiasts, farmers, planners, educators, environmentalists and activists joined together to talk about food security. Hot topics included food justice, Farm to School, urban agriculture, and zoning practices — how to change current ordinances back to how they used to be.

As mentioned in last week’s article, current zoning ordinances in Summit County restrict most of our residences from having chickens, bees and, in some cases, community gardens or greenhouses. Cities and communities across the nation (as learned about at the Community Food Security Coalition Conference in New Orleans) have experience or are in the process of experiencing groundbreaking changes.

In New Orleans, vacant, weed-infested lots that were sites for garbage and old tires are uniting neighbors with after-work carrot pulls and lettuce plantings. Nearby missions and food banks are benefiting from garden produce and fresh eggs. At one point, we visited six community gardens on one block, all of which popped up in less than year’s time. Garden plots are “selling” like hot cakes. Urban farmer co-ops, where gardeners exchange produce or come together to sell produce at farmer’s markets or local stores are multiplying. And chickens! Every backyard garden, urban farm, and community garden throughout New Orleans had chickens and bees.

Colorado is also thriving in backyard chickens. Denver’s ordinances allow residences to have chickens if they obtain two permits: a one-time zoning exception and an animal-control permit that must be renewed annually. To support the chicken movement, the Denver Urban Gardens (DUG) provide poultry-raising guidelines, urban poultry trainings, and consultations to interested locals. DUG’s “chicken teams” consist of several chicken-keepers that provide resources and troubleshooting for chicken newbies.

Although ordinances vary in communities allowing home chicken coops, most restrict roosters to keep the morning “cock-a-doodle-doo” under wraps. The good news is that there are hundreds of successful examples of backyard chickens, from New York to Seattle. Summit County can learn from the do’s and don’ts of backyard birds. If places like New Orleans is making it work, we can too!

Summit County’s Food Policy Council, hosted by the High Country Conservation Center and the Summit Prevention Alliance, is currently working to make these important zoning changes. As a community, we need to go back to our agricultural roots and bring back the chickens, victory gardens and edible landscapes.

There are many false assumptions associated with animals in the city. As with backyard composting, poultry-raising and beekeeping can be done if it is done correctly. The FPC is working to educate the public on the facts, but we need your help. If you are interested in backyard chickens (for or against), please let us know. Join us as we support taking back our food systems.

Our next meeting is today from 2-3:30 p.m. in the Miner’s Creek room at the Medical Office Building in Frisco. You can learn more about our local FPC on our website at or email

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky, consultants on all things eco and chic at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at

One response to “New Orleans Food Justice Conference: What’s up with backyard chickens?

  1. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » Food Freedom | Decentralize, Grow Your Own, Buy Local.

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