Urban Hens YQL held an information session on June 5 at the Theoretically Brewing Company in Lethbridge.

“We want to ensure that this organization eventually achieves the goal of legal hen-keeping for everyone in the city, and brings a community culture of responsible urban hen keeping and sustainability to Lethbridge,” Kelti Baird, owner of the Theoretically Brewing Company and head of Urban Hens YQL, said.

Baird began the information session by stating that in September 2018, she went to City Council and asked them to look into a pilot project to allow the keeping of urban hens in Lethbridge city limits. Baird began this movement because she wants hens in her backyard, as her yard is not good for gardening and would be perfect for such a project. 

In 1951, Baird said, Lethbridge first adopted a version of Bylaw 3383, which banned the keeping of livestock animals, including bees and any poultry inside the urban city of Lethbridge. The last amendment of that bylaw was done in 1983 and Baird firmly believes that it is time for it to be updated.

“During the world wars, urban property owners were encouraged by the local governments to have hens in the backyard because that was food sustainability, which is where the urban hen movement really comes from,” Baird said. “It's about using our privately owned properties to generate food for our families and reconnect with our food sources.  Before 1951, Lethbridge had the same rules in regards to urban hens.” 

Baird then showed examples of  how green spaces can be useful for food sustainability by sharing that Detroit, Michigan has converted one of their parks into an urban farm space that includes chickens. The reason for the creation of this farm space, Baird said, was that grocery stores pulled out of the area because of the collapsing economy.

“PrairieClimateCentre.ca, which is a Canadian website that focuses on a city sustainability and resilience cities in Alberta, talks about what makes a resilient city,” Baird said. “ Having a food source or allowing people to have local food sources is what part of what makes us resilient cities.”

Baird also touched upon the fact that Lethbridge also has some urban agricultural practices already active in the city including Synergy Farms and the planting of fruit trees in city parks to create an urban food forest.

“There are already sustainability practices in play within the city of Lethbridge and we're just asking for one more step,” Baird said. “

When Baird went to Council with the idea of the pilot project, however, Council had objections including the smell, the noise factor, concerns over disease, and worries that hens would attract pests. Baird said that when Urban Hens YQL began investigating the idea of urban hens in Lethbridge, they looked at a bylaw in Red Deer for information and at the urban hen pilot program Red Deer ran from 2012 to 2014.

“At the end of that program, Red Deer they actually amended their bylaw because the pilot project was successful,” Baird said. “Red Deer’s pilot project had many requirements:  four hens per household, mandatory education courses, and only a certain amount of people could keep hens. During the pilot program, 65 licenses were issued and that number was increased to 100 due to the success of it.”

Baird emphasized that Urban Hens YQL is merely asking the City of Lethbridge to consider a pilot project that includes 100 families within being allowed to keep up to 4 hens in their backyards, proper licensing, secure and clean coops, and no roosters, as roosters are not needed to create eggs. Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to keep chickens knows how to properly care for them and Baird says that such inexperience can create chaos.

“We're trying to get the city to move towards a pilot program and not an outright bylaw change,” Baird said. “We want to see that this program has been to work on a small scale before we introduce it to the rest of the city.”

Baird says that Urban Hens YQL was specifically created as a Facebook community where ideas and expertise could be shared and it currently has 215 members. One of the many barriers that the group is currently facing, Baird said is not having a veterinarian available to deal with medical care for the hems, as vets do not deal with chickens.

“Trying to get this pilot project started is just reconnecting that generation with their food, as a lot of people even in urban centers  don't know where their food comes from,” Baird said. “They have no concept of what it is to create food or grow food. Studies have found that once you connect with food sources, you waste a lot less food. Over 60% of food grown in North America is wasted. Once you're connected with your food sources, you waste a lot less. You're very conscious of how you use your food and how you interact with the animals producing our food.”

Baird said that Urban Hens YQL is currently working on putting together a survey concerning keeping chickens in Lethbridge and their hopes are that it will provide good data. For more information about Urban Hens YQL visit Urban Hens YQL on Facebook.

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