Wednesday, August 29

"I'm pro-chicken and I vote"

These were the t-shirts that supporters of urban chicken ownership wore to a public hearing in Missoula on Monday.

I'm not kidding. And I don't think they were kidding either.

Here's the dilemma. Currently no livestock are allowed in the Missoula city limits, according to a 1982 ordinance. However, recently it has become marginally popular for individual families to keep a few chickens in the yard. It's a low-cost way to ensure an ongoing supply of eggs and maybe a nice chicken parmesan dinner when it's all said and done. The trouble is that this trend has worried some into envisioning a town overrun with smelly, loud birds.

Every urban community has to decide where it stands in the spectrum between garden plots (good) and slaughterhouses (not so much), between individual liberty and the right for others to not hear clucking over the fence. Montana happens to lean on the self-sufficient side, so my money is on the chicken owners.

But some have also seen a deeper value to the chickens as well. Mr. Wendel Berry of Kentucky once laid out a list of practical ways to instill a lifestyle of conservation. On the top of the list was the suggestion to cultivate a garden, even if it's only a box on a window sill. Not everyone can be a professional farmer, but everyone can have at least some connection to the land. I wonder if chicken-ownership is to animal husbandry what a garden is to farming. Could your breakfast omelet mean something different, even taste differently, if you knew it came from Maggie in the backyard rather than a carton at Safeway? We talk about local food. Maggie is so local you can smell her.

By the way, the hearing came to no conclusions. They will pick it back up next week. Here's a pdf of the proposal to allow chickens under certain conditions.

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