Episode 2: Food Security, a la Chicken
Welcome back to Eco Chats with Matt or Something Like That. Moving from spring into summer, EcoSuperior has shifted its focus a little bit. We have been waging an ongoing campaign to raise awareness of food security around town, including the right to healthy food, the importance of our connection to the foods that we eat, and the interconnected nature of food, environment and community. One of the most high profile elements of this campaign has been the push to change Thunder Bay by-laws regarding urban chickens. Currently, citizens of Thunder Bay are only allowed to have chickens on properties that are zoned “Rural”. In the interest of providing individuals and communities with more control over their own food security, and increasing environmental sustainability, we have been collaborating on a movement to make backyard chickens legal. On June 20th, City Council will be holding a public meeting at City Hall during which members of the public can provide input and opinions in order to discuss amending the by-law. At this meeting, Council will vote on whether to proceed with this initiative.
Food insecurity is a major issue in both the developing and developed world. In the developing world, we see the consequences of food insecurity much more starkly. According to the United Nations, 21 000 people per day die due to famine and malnutrition. That’s one person every 4 seconds. Combined with the fact that approximately 783 million people around the globe don’t have access to clean drinking water, the problem of food security and malnutrition on a global level is readily apparent. However, malnutrition and food security are also major problems close to home. In Canada, roughly 8% of households are food insecure, meaning that they do not have access to the variety or quantity of food necessary for healthy living due to lack of money. This number may not seem that large, but looking at the socio-economic factors that drive it, we get a much clearer picture of the severity of the issue. In Nunavut, about 35% of households are food insecure. 21% of households nationwide whose primary source of income is government benefits are also food insecure. Canadian single-parent households with children under the age of 18 have a food insecurity rating of about 22%. In Thunder Bay alone, we have almost 13% of people living below the poverty line, with close to 8500 households subsisting on government benefits. Basically, poor people are not able to access healthy food, and that is a huge problem.
Globally, the problem needs to be addressed by enormous policy change, and is often at the mercy of geo-political forces that regular people have very little power to sway in the short term; however many cities across North America have been finding ways to mitigate the problem of food insecurity on a local level. Access to nutritious, unprocessed food for low-income households is one key element in eliminating this problem. Many families simply cannot afford to spend the money on fresh produce and other high quality, nutritionally dense foods, especially if those families have several children. Allowing for a greater diversity in food control options for families and communities will alleviate some of this burden, and with proper governance in the area of food security and urban agriculture, we can create an environment in which all members can thrive, not just those who can afford to foot the bill.
Allowing backyard chickens in urban areas of the city would be a great first step in working towards greater food security for low-income communities. It is true that for individual households, the cost of purchasing and maintaining chickens and the requisite equipment would be prohibitive for many people for the time being. However, by allowing backyard chickens as a part of our urban agricultural infrastructure, we open up the possibility for chickens to enter into our communities in a more dynamic way by allowing for a more robust and accessible urban agricultural framework on a communal level. For example, many areas of the city, including places with high densities of low-income households, have community gardens at which members of the local community can grow their own food. Including chickens as a part of those urban agricultural areas would bring the community together in a meaningful way and allow them further access to healthy food. It would also engage youth in recognizing the connection between where food comes from and how it gets on their dinner plate.
Thunder Bay has been moving in an increasingly progressive direction with regards to urban agriculture; drastically increasing the number of community gardens, supporting groups like Roots to Harvest who are dedicated to utilizing urban space for food production, allowing for urban farms, urban beekeeping and urban greenhouses, growing edible urban parkland, and encouraging schools to put in gardens in order to educate children on the importance of knowing their connection to food. Chickens are a part of this larger progressive movement. By taking this step, Thunder Bay would be sending a message that we recognize the importance of strong urban agricultural infrastructure, and are committed to expanding it in ways that can help with the issues of poverty and food insecurity.
If you are passionate about, or even just interested in, seeing urban chickens allowed in Thunder Bay, please contact your local city councillors and email Thora Cartlidge, Senior Planner, firstname.lastname@example.org by June 20th, 2016 in order to have your comments included in the discussion at City Hall.
Thanks and Stay Green
See http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-624-x/2015001/article/14138-eng.htm for more information on national statistics regarding poverty and food security
Visit http://tbfoodstrategy.ca/ for more information on backyard chickens and a look at local facts and figures.
The business side of urban agriculture has a reputation as inaccessible to low income people. This article outlines ways that some European companies are making the industry more inclusive and cost-effective – Is Urban Farming Only for Rich Hipsters?
For more information on the importance of urban agriculture, check out Why We Should be Urban Farming – in this video, some urban farming pioneers discuss how they are reclaiming land in Chicago. Their problem is that Chicago has many of vacant lots and a high unemployment rate (sound familiar..?). Their solution? Use the lots to grow food and employ local people to manage the operations.