The proposal passed the OKC Planning Commission two weeks ago and will be introduced to the Oklahoma City Council at its Dec. 3 meeting. A public hearing and final vote will be Dec. 31.
So far, the idea has received the endorsement of residents who support urban agriculture in the city limits. No formal opposition has been expressed publicly.
However, the measure is more than backyard chickens. It includes activities associated with gardening and urban farming such as rainwater harvesting, composting and installing greenhouses. It’s also about clarifying city codes.
“The ordinances are unclear about a lot of this (urban farming),” said supporter Sara Braden. “For instance, code enforcement officers do not have clear standards if its junk or debris or a compost pile. A lot of these amendments will update the code.”
Backyard chickens are now allowed on lots of one acre or more, but the new measure would allow up to six hens (no roosters) on any city lot.
Fall in line Southwest OKC resident Johannah West remembers raising chickens in Maryland as a child and would like to share the experience with her children.
“Home-grown eggs are the best.
They taste so much better,” she said. “We had a garden where we used to live and had several vegetables. I think the whole idea is about stewardship. We’re supposed to take care of the Earth, and this would help influence our local food system where food is grown organically.”
Backyard chickens are allowed in many of OKC’s peer cities, including Kansas City, St. Louis, San Antonio, Fort Worth, Tulsa and Norman.
“They make good pets, they eat weeds and insects, they’re quiet during the day and absolutely silent at night, and they produce eggs,” Braden said.
Braden believes OKC should fall in line with other big-league cities by amending its code to allow chickens in all backyards.
“If there is a fear Oklahoma City is going to be the laughingstock, then the fear should be we’re already the laughingstock by not allowing it,” she said.
Good food Allen Parleir, an outspoken advocate of urban farming and community gardening, is part of CommonWealth Urban Farms of OKC, a group that uses vacant lots in the Central Park neighborhood to grow veggies. Anyone can sign up to receive a bag of vegetables each week for only $10. Food pickup is at the urban farm, 3301 N. Olie Ave.
“We grow enough to distribute food to 30 families every Friday,” he said.
Part of the proposal also would allow home gardens to be planted in the front, back and side yards. In addition, community gardens and urban farms could be developed in residential, commercial, office and industrial zoning districts.
“We’re just trying to catch up with what’s going on in other cities,” Parleir said. “Home gardens, community gardens, urban farms all bring more wholesome food and encourage the local food movement. Less fossil fuel is used to get the food here, it shows good environmental stewardship and it teaches all ages where food comes from.”
At least one business joined the local food and backyard chicken movement.
Virginia Kramer, owner of Britton Feed & Seed, previously sold traditional chicken feed but has added totally organic feed and non-genetically modified organism (GMO) feed, which contains no corn or soy.
“It’s less expensive, and we want to make sure the chickens are getting good food,” she said.
The council considered the backyard chicken issue in 2011, but the measure did not pass.
“It wasn’t the right time, and more research needed to be done,” Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid said.
With the issue up for debate again, Shadid said, “I think laws must heed the consciousness of the people.”