the push-back against “urban” farming

I burst out laughing when I saw this headline on Twitter:

Are urban chickens a gateway drug for urban cows and pigs?

Of course, I had to click through to the article on

And when I did I laughed even harder.

The article is about my hubby’s hometown of Campbellford, Ontario.

You probably don’t know where that is.

It’s ok.

Before I met Jeff, neither did I.

Apparently the town is in a flap over two residents keeping hens on their “urban” lot (which is an entire acre.)

The mayor is quoted as saying:

I think it’s just wrong to have animals in the urban centres. What’s next? Where do we draw the line? Cattle, swine, sheep?

Now no disrespect to Campbellford or Trent Hills region in general, but “urban” is the last word I’d use to describe it.

As someone who keeps chickens on a 30 x 108 lot on a busy East Vancouver street, I find the entire situation laughable and more than a little sad.

Northumberland County is made up of beautiful rolling hills, century old farmhouses and tiny towns where the streets are named after the families who have lived there for ages. We were home for a visit in early July and I was struck by all the locals out on their ride-em’ lawnmowers in the 35+ degree heat, mowing their acres and acres of lawn. All I could think was – What a waste! What I could do with so much space!!

And really, as we drove around the countryside visiting friends and family, I also realized that despite all the farmland, I saw very little FOOD. Lots of soybean and corn as far as the eye can see, but other than the odd dairy, Grandpa’s cattle and a few chicken operations, no actual food.

Grandma’s always abundant garden was one of the few exceptions:

grandmas vegetable garden

Grandma's Vegetable Garden

Rural Ontario isn’t the only place pushing back against the growing “urban” farming movement. (I use the term urban with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.)

Closer to home on Vancouver Island, Dirk and Nicole are fighting to keep Compassion Farm operating. Lantzville (outside of Nanaimo) doesn’t allow urban farming for profit, and Nicole and Dirk sell the veggies they grow on their TWO ACRE “urban” lot. Rather than commend the couple for their contribution to their community’s food security, they’ve been dragged through a bueareaucratic nightmare. Read more about Compassion Farm here.

The insanity continues in Oak Park, Michigan, where a mum of six was actually threatened with jail time for growing tidy plots of veggies instead of grass in her front yard. (If that freaked her neighbours out, I can only imagine what they’d say about the chaotic abundance in my front yard!)

It gets me thinking not so much about gardening, but about the nature of democracy.

In a time where we can watch daily as others around the world give their lives for the democratic freedoms we all enjoy, it is well to remember that with freedom comes responsibility. (And not in a – we have to go bomb the tar out of the rest of the world kind of way.)

What I mean is, we are obliged to participated in our democracy – breaking the laws if that is what is needed. We need to view these acts for what they are – civil disobedience.

After all . . .

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.  – Gandhi

It is our responsibility as citizens to reject laws that do not serve our communities or that insult our sense of justice. Some argue that a citizenry that picks and choses which laws to follow amounts to anarchy. I don’t believe that. If we did not break unjust laws we would not have civil rights or human rights and places like India would still be under colonial rule.

The right to farm, to provide your family with food that is good, clean and fair, must be viewed as a human right worth fighting for. If asserting that right means breaking the law, so be it.

Paper-pushers in city halls around the world can write anti-“urban” farming legislation all they want. In the meantime, I’ll keep raising my backyard hens and growing cabbage along the sidewalk.

5 thoughts on “the push-back against “urban” farming

  1. Paul Hughes (@Hughes4YYC)

    I constantly hear, “Are we allowed to have chickens?”

    “An unjust law is no law at all”, said St Augustine, providing the foundation of civil disobedience movements across the globe. If a law is not really a law at all, it is argued, one has a right — even a duty — to break it. Martin Luther King articulated this view in his Letter from Birmingham Jail: “one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws”.

    Our food system has eroded to the point where feeding your family has become a litigious issue.

    The Canadian Right to Food Trial is set for March 2012 in Calgary, Alberta.

    Paul Hughes (CLUCK) vs The Queen: Canadian Right to Food Trial

    Brief from the City of Calgary against Right to Food, Household Food Security, Personal Food Security, Urban Chickens & Local Sustainable Food Systems

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      What an inspiration!

      It is so good to see individuals working to create case law to support farming and growing food as a charter-protected right. Before I became a full-time mum and food-activist, I was working in human rights at the provincial level. The notion of what constitues human rights has been erroded in our country to the point that the system is bogged down by frivilous complaints and completely neglects issues that should be central to human rights; access to clean, publicly owned water and the right to food that is good, clean and fair. It is absolutely essential that individual citizens participate in civil disobedience if we are to address our coming food crisis in a timely, meaningful way.

      I notice you are unrepresented. Do you have legal support or financial assistance for your fight? Surely their must be human rights lawyers or perhaps someone with the civil liberties association who might be able to help you. If not, you should put a donation button on your website. I’m sure there are many people out there who would be happy to help support your cause!

      Best of luck to you, we’ll spread the word!

  2. JeninCanada

    In the next century we’re going to see a shift from huge mono-crop agriculture back to smaller, local farms. It’ll be necessary because the places where we import our food from might not be able to send us anything. Deserts are expanding, coastlines are shrinking, the rainforest isn’t so rainy anymore and food shortages are becoming normal in far too many places. Thanks to the trade agreements we have in place with other countries, we can’t just say “Sorry USA, we’re keeping our apples.” or “Sorry Japan, we’re keeping our beef.” The trade agreements will need to be revisted or we’ll all be shooting ourselves in the foot.

    1. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

      @JeninCanada You’re absolutely right, the whole notion of trade as it exists now is a tricky one as it applies to food security. We already have run into that problem here in BC in regards to our salmon.

      You also bring to mind areas of the world that are food insecure and are using their limited resources, like water, for export products like roses or coffee rather than food for their own people.

      How do you think we might address the problem, given the fact that Canada’s economy is largely based on export of our raw materials?

  3. The Slow Foods Mama Post author

    An update on the Campbellford chickens:

    Grandma informs us that they made her do away with her hens. What a shame. We tried to convince Grandma to take them in . . . Might be a few new hens on the farm the next trip home!


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