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Common Sense Flew The Coop

I see more and more news articles and Internet conversation about the concept of “urban farms” in the backyards of cityfolk. The preached benefits are community support, less fossil fuel use and the ever popular, “It’s safer food.” Where we have crossed the line of common sense is that some cities in Ontario allow backyard chicken coops for urban egg production. People, have we lost our minds? What would ever possess you to start an egg farm in your backyard? Have you never heard of the grocery store? In a story that I read on the Internet, an Owen Sound city councillor justifies this nonsense by stating, “It speaks to food safety. It speaks to food security. It speaks to so many things.”

I would say that it speaks to humankind’s lack of intelligence. For those of us who are reasonable, it is fairly well understood that urban farms are not going to improve food security and safety in a country, city, town or village anytime in the future. I have been in many animal processing plants, food packaging plants and farms across North America and I find it incredibly strange for someone to suggest that the quality management systems of “big ag” are somehow second fiddle to a guy running an egg business from his garage.

In the June 2009 issue of Fast Company, Will Allen was honoured with being one of the year’s most innovative people. Will Allen is the CEO of Growing Power, a large-scale urban farm in Milwaukee. Allen is the flagship of the urban farm movement for most food activists. He has done some great work on his two-acre urban farm to educate and provide great local food products to local restaurants. Partly due to his influence, it has become cool to grow your own food.

Allen’s work has provoked the thought that urban farms are the future of feeding the world because our current “big ag” system is unsustainable. Growing a garden is a great thing, but pasturing livestock in your backyard is a step in the wrong direction for me. On top of this, some roof top gardeners in Manhattan are now referring to themselves as farmers because they grow a few carrots and cucumbers. For the sake of interest, I called the City of Lethbridge’s regulatory office and asked if I would be able to start a chicken farm in my backyard. The lady laughed and said, “No!!” I told her who I was and asked her if this was a common request. She replied that they do get some requests to keep chickens, goats, sheep and ponies in backyards.

Do some of the urban residents of North America not trust the food system or are they thinking this will save them a dollar? Why not support the experts and buy from farmers and the grocery store? What is next? We don’t trust doctors and so we allow people to give each other surgeries.

When I posted my thoughts on urban farming on my website, I received a varied response from farmers and food activists. Some agreed, some called me an idiot, some thought I was not seeing the future of our food system. I’m sorry, but I just don’t agree that someone who wants to have chickens in their backyard should be labeled a farmer, never mind the fact I don’t think you should have chickens in your backyard in the first place.

Farming is a real occupation that some discredit by thinking they can just do it themselves in a safer fashion. Let’s not discredit the hard working people of rural areas by calling some lady with 10 chickens in her backyard a farmer. This is no different than someone who has a 10-foot by 10-foot corn crop. This is not a farm. It’s a garden. He is gardener. Let’s quit this nonsense that Guelph, Brampton and some U. S. cities have encouraged.

The food system is not perfect and does need some change, but this is not the correct direction to ensure our children have nutritious food. The suggestion that our current farmers are not providing high quality products is slightly offensive to me as an agriculturalist.

To my city friends, I say, “Support the REAL farmers! Visit a farm and say thank you!”

Shaun Haney publishes the Haney Farms Quarterly and his blog, which can be found at Farms is located in Picture Butte, Alta., and is involved in the grain, seed and beef business. You can contact Shaun at 1-877-738-4517 or [email protected]



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