Backyard chickens are becoming increasingly popular and are now allowed in urban communities such as Madison Heights and Hazel Park. Anne, an Oakland County resident who would not reveal her last name, and her young son check on the family's chickens in their backyard Friday.
Ferndale residents want backyard chickens allowed
Michael P. McConnell
Friday, April 22, 2011
FERNDALE – A group of residents wants backyard chickens allowed in the city and is working to convince officials to scratch out a new ordinance to allow the birds.
Though Ferndale's ordinance allows chickens, it prohibits them unless they are kept at least 150 feet from the nearest neighbors' property. That provision effectively prohibits chickens in 90 percent of city neighborhoods.
Chicken enthusiasts say the birds are a natural low-cost way to have fresh eggs and good fertilizer for their gardens. Keeping chickens in urban areas has become a movement of sorts over the past several years and are permitted in many cities from New York to San Francisco with some restrictions.
Locally, cities such as Madison Heights and Hazel Park have recently changed their ordinances to accommodate chickens. Residents in Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor are also permitted to keep chickens.
Resident Laura Mikulski, an avid organic gardener, wants chickens allowed because their eggs provide a good source of locally grown protein without having to engage with the darker side of the industrially raised eggs available at most stores.
"I started gardening and then thought I would like to have my own sustainable source of protein," she said. "That's when I checked the city ordinance and found out you can't have chickens any closer than 150 feet from another residence. Only about 10 percent of Ferndale is eligible to have chickens under the current ordinance."
Mikulski and others are now on a mission to change the city ordinance and have reached out to Councilwoman Melanie Piani.
"I expect this group is going to work with the city and the city's community development director and bring a draft proposal to the City Council," Piani said. "I think backyard chickens, if done properly with good oversight, can be a good thing for the community. This is a trend that is going on in urban areas all over and not just Ferndale. They are taking control of their food and what they put into their bodies."
Madison Heights was the most recent city to change its ordinance to allow chickens. City Council members in November voted 5-2 to allow backyard chickens. There was some opposition to the chickens from residents. Councilman Brian Hartwell said at the time that anti-chicken sentiment was based on an image issue, adding that "some feel Madison Heights is too good for hens."
Anne, an Oakland County resident who keeps four chickens and didn't want to reveal her last name, said she, her husband and their two small sons like watching and feeding the birds.
"We really enjoy coming out here with our 3-year-old to collect the eggs," she said, as she and her son checked in on the chickens in their backyard Friday. The family also likes to grow the vegetables they eat and buying food locally. She sees keeping chickens as an extension of that philosophy.
"You can't get much more local than your backyard," she said.
Mikulski is working with gardener and farmer Trevor Johnson to make a pitch for chickens in Ferndale.
Johnson, a Detroit resident, previously lived in Ferndale for 17 years and is now looking to buy a house here so he can move back.
"Allowing chickens in our backyards is a way to allow them to be chickens without hormones and control they way they are treated and raised," he said. "It gives you the ability to have control over what enters your mouth. Food is one of the most effective leverage points to make any change in society because it touches everybody."
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter admits he doesn't know much about chickens and has yet to take a position on whether they should be allowed in every backyard.
"I'm no expert but I'm open to being educated," he said.
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