JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

Many many families here on the first coast had deep roots to backyard vegetable gardens, rabbits were fairly common and most people knew someone who had hens laying chickens somewhere in the neighborhood. In fact up until 30 years ago, these things were done by right as just part of the natural daily life of the city.

However as modernity expanded to the rural suburbs surrounding the city like Mandarin and the deep westside, regulations and policies began to be implemented whose vagueness was rooted in the fact that regular small scale family agriculture was taken for granted as being exempt.

Thirty years later, not so much. Take for example the issue of keeping a hen in the backyard to supply the family with fresh eggs. In Jacksonville it is illegal to just buy a chicken and let her start laying. And it comes with a stiff fine. A seriously stiff one.

Owning a chicken requires a permit, which requires a fee.The fee for allowing farm animals was originally set for people who wanted to keep a horse. When the fee was set, the amount was created with a Horse and stable in mind. Since then, hens have become less and the only fee which allows them to be legally placed in your backyard is the old one set aside for horses.

That fee is $750 every year. That's a hell of a lot of eggs to make up even slightly for the egregious amount that you have to spend.The alternative is simply to go guerrilla (like almost everyone in the city has) and risk fines of thousands of dollars. Similar codes and city policies have pushed urban aquaculture, community gardens, rooftop gardens, and aquaculture all but impossible for the regular family ever to be able to afford. Springfield is working on changing that.

Led by every single group representing the historic district a move is afoot to examine making code changes which allow for the same kind of urban ag uses that are sweeping the country and which used to be the norm here in every neighborhood of Jacksonville.

That there is consensus on the general issue of a greener, more sustainable option for the neighborhood is without question. The only questions that remain are simply a matter of degree. How much Urban Ag is a good thing? How many kinds of Urb Ag should be permitted? How liberal should the codes be in regards to domesticated farm animals like hens, ducks, and goats? The neighborhood is committed to getting together and deciding those very issues before they draft legislation to alter city ordinances.

What is urban agriculture? As a national movement, urban agriculture is growing rapidly across the US. According to the USDA, around 15 percent of the world's food is now grown in urban areas. City and suburban agriculture takes the form of backyard, roof-top and balcony gardening, community gardening in vacant lots and parks, roadside urban fringe agriculture and livestock grazing in open space." Amid escalating concerns about the environment, pesticides, and food safety, urbanites are turning to community gardens to supply their fruits and vegetables. Cities are also creating gardens to address "urban food deserts," or areas where access to fresh fruits and vegetables is limited.

Animal husbandry, of which urban hen-keeping is the most popular version, forms a significant part of the urban agriculture movement. Sarasota, Austin, Charlotte, San Francisco, Little Rock, Mobile, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Baltimore, Boise, and Albuquerque all allow a limited number of hens on private property. Organizations such as Urban Chickens help dispel myths pertaining to urban chicken-keeping.Many cities are also now allowing limited numbers of miniature goats for fresh milk. Most cities limit it to 2-3 goats. The Goat Justice League out of Seattle is a great resource to help dispel myths about urban goat keeping too.

Many residents of Springfield have been following this trend and would like to see Springfield on the forefront of this trend in Jacksonville. Legislation can be written to allow urban ag in the Springfield area so that the community can lead the way and attract more development there as a result.

Benefits of Urban Hens

Health – better source of protein than Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFO’s) that send eggs to our grocery stores, often from poorly run facilities and months old by the time they are consumed.

Economic - Cheaper source of protein and promotes the local food movement that keeps more dollars and jobs in our local economy.

Safer – CAFO’s are more prone to E coli and salmonella and often use antibiotics and hormones- McDonald’s just dropped a multi-state egg supplier after “serious violations” were found.

Education and Knowledge – Kids learn firsthand knowledge of where their food comes from and since they are home raised, we know that they are antibiotic and hormone free.

Environmentally sensitive – eggs are brought in from the backyard instead of hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Natural pest control – chickens eat worms, roaches, slugs, fire ants and termites among other pests.

Domesticated pet – in current Jacksonville coding, the following are considered domesticated animals – dog, bird, cat, rodent, such as a gerbil, guinea pig, hamster, domesticated mouse, and domesticated rat, domesticated or European ferret, rabbit, fish, nonvenemous reptile and amphibian. Even pot-bellied pigs. Poultry is not.

Misconceptions about Urban Hen-Keeping: