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Monday December 22nd 2014

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City Slicker Chickens

Running across the yard, the children play with their chickens. They are not on a farm, or in the rural wilds of Escambia County. The children and their chickens are nestled into the East Hill neighborhood of Pensacola.

Picking up one of the two chickens, the little girl explains that it’s an Americana. The other is a Silky. These are Heritage Chickens.

“Cupcake produces blue eggs,” the little girl smiles and cradles the bird.

The children’s mother stands near a custom-built chicken coop in the backyard. She’s happy about the bowl full of eggs in her fridge and the fact that her children are getting an experience and education.

“It shows our children where our food comes from,” the mother said. “It connects them to the earth, where we all come from.”

Across the country—and increasingly, here in Pensacola—city dwellers are getting back to the land. They look to their backyards as models of sustainability, growing gardens of food and raising livestock.

Elsewhere in East Hill, another resident—Paul Darling—is having some problems with his backyard chickens.

“No, not with my chickens,” Darling clarified, “but with the city of Pensacola.”

Next week, Darling will head into a public hearing with Pensacola Code Enforcement. The city has not yet embraced the urban-farm movement.

“The code is the code that’s on the books,” said Pensacola City Administrator Bill Reynolds.

Presently, the city has two ordinances that pertain to backyard farming, specifically livestock. The first ordinance states that livestock must be kept in a structure—like a chicken coop—and the second ordinance specifies that the structure cannot be within 50 feet of a school, church, public building or park, or the homeowners own house.

“It’s irrelevant to me,” said Code Enforcement Administrator Steve Wineki. “The ordinance is on the books so we have to enforce it as such.”

Darling’s chickens run free in his backyard. He’s clipped the birds’ wings so there’s no chance of them flying out of the yard.

“We have birds that can run around our backyard, eating bugs and laying eggs,” he said.

Over the past few months, Darling has been receiving visits from code enforcement officers. Now he’s got a public hearing May 15.

“I just don’t know where this is coming from,” he said. “I’ve tried to call the mayor, i’ve tried to call the council.”

Reynolds said that the ordinances must be observed, or changed. Either the Pensacola City Council can take up the issue, or Mayor Ashton Hayward could also make a recommendation that the ordinances be changed. Thus far, the city administrator explained, the matter is not on his radar.

“I have not heard anyone on staff request that we look at backyard farming issues,” Reynolds said.

Recently, attorney Alistair Mckenzie approached the city council during the public forum of a board meeting. He explained that a number of people in the city limits were enjoying the urban-farming revolution. He asked for the council to look at changing city ordinances to allow for such.

“Common sense dictates that the ordinances are out of date,” Mckenzie said last week.

Councilwoman Sheri Myers has said she will look into the matter.

“He’s not the first person who’s brought it up to the city council,” Myers said. “I think the idea of people raising their own eggs is good, and also healthy and also more humane—you know, factory farming is horrible.”
Wineki said that that’s how the process is suppose to work. He encourages citizens unsatisfied with certain ordinances to talk it over with their council member.

“We’ve changed several ordinances this year,” Wineki said.

Darling agrees, saying he doesn’t want to “rock the boat,” but sees the need for the issue to be addressed. The backyard farmer said he’s getting a lot of support from fellow farmers and neighbors as he looks toward his May 15 hearing date.

“This chicken thing is unique,” Darling said.