Reinventing urban agriculture

Which came first, the chicken or $750?


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:

Noise - Roosters will not be permitted and are not needed to produce eggs. Laying hens make some soft noise when laying an egg, but are basically silent at all other times. From sundown to sunup, because chickens can't see in the dark, they lay quietly in their coop.

Odors– Much like a cat litter box, the laying hen's coop does need cleaning from time to time.Unlike cat's, a hens waste is a great source of fertilizer for lawns and garden beds. The slaughtering of chickens is expressly prohibited unless at a USDA approved facility.

Disease – Chickens carry far fewer diseases than cats or dogs. As to "bird flu", there has never been human infection in the US and the spread in Asia, Africa and Europe is largely due to the unsanitary and tight quarters seen more often in CAFOs.

Attraction of predators – Raccoons are the most common predators to chickens and they exist in Jacksonville currently, usually feeding off the plates of outdoor cats and dogs, as well as the trash created and left out by humans. Laying hens, when secured in proper coop at night, are safe from these nocturnal creatures.

Key Elements from Proposed Draft Hen Legislation

As an accessory use to a permitted single family dwelling.A maximum of 6 hens – no roosters. Enclosing structure required, screened from street view, and consistent with UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Services Publication. Chickens are not raised for consumption. Sale of eggs is already regulated and enforced by the State Department of Agriculture.

Benefits of Urban Goats

Health - Raw milk has nothing added, no hormones or antibiotics. Lactos intolerance is not an issue. No GMO's. Higher in many vitamins and nutrients. Can help reduce allergies.

Safety- Dairy operations are filthy and rely on pasteurization to kill microbes that might kill you. Did you know that conventional milk contains high levels of blood, pus, and feces? One third of pasteurized milk is contaminated with dangerous enzymes. If you are getting milk from your goat in your back yard then you know exactly where it came from, how it was handled, and what the animal ate that produced it.

Education and Knowledge – Kids have firsthand knowledge of where their food comes from. Since they are home raised, we know that the milk produced is antibiotic and hormone free.

Environmentally sensitive – milk from your own goat in the backyard instead of hundreds or thousands of miles away saves fuel costs and harmful effects of large scale industrial dairy farming

Natural weed control – contrary to popular belief, goats are browsers, not grazers. They will happily munch on any cut shrubbery or weeds or spent garden goods that you want to give them. No more waiting for COJ to pick up those shrubs you trimmed - your goat will eat it and turn it in to milk.

Domesticated Pet - goats make wonderful pets. They are extremely smart and funny and playful. They are herd animals and will bond to their people very easily.

Some Misconceptions About Urban Goat Keeping

Noise - Goats are prey animals and make no noise at night. During the day, most goats make less noise than your neighbors barking dog. Goats are herd animals so having only one isn't an option or you will get a loud and lonely goat. For small scale purposes, 2-3 goats is adequate for them to entertain themselves.

Odor - Goat poop is small like rabbit droppings. Much like a cat litter box, the goat shed does need cleaning from time to time and unlike cat's, a goats's waste is a great source of fertilizer for lawns and garden beds, much like hen waste. Again, we aren't talking about a herd of goats - SCALE IS EVERYTHING

Lots of Land is Necessary - this is truly a misconception, especially when we are talking about 2-3 goats. In most countries where goat keeping is more normal, a small pen and some adequate fencing with a shed for cover from the weather is all that is necessary - very similar to what a dog needs. Goats can eat mostly hay and shrubbery clippings that you feed them along with small amounts of oats and grains when they are milking.

Everyone is going to get one and they will be everywhere! -  This is most certainly not true. Goats are ruminants and require special attention. Also, to keep the goat milking the doe must be bred, so the owner has to be dedicated to finding a stud and selling the babies. This is more trouble than most are willing to do. But for those who are willing to put in the time and effort, misconceptions shouldn't be allowed to hold them back

Key Elements to Proposed Draft Goat Legislation
2-3 goats per household with a restrictions (numbers, lot size, ets). No uncastrated males permitted
Enclosing structure required, not visble from street view. Goats are not raised for meat consumption or milk sale.

Urban Farms

What is an urban farm? Typically larger than community gardens and includes larger scale production of food-producing or ornamental plants, bees, fish, etc. for commercial purposes using a variety of horizontal and vertical growing techniques including in-soil, container, hydroponic, and aquaponic growing systems. End products are typically sold on- or off-site at a stand or market. If large enough, urban farms may adopt the community supported agriculture (CSA) distribution model, through which consumers of the farm's produce over the growing season also share in its risks. Many urban farms also employ local people.

Story by Stephen Dare,


Metro Jacksonville