By Adam Reilly
Feb. 29, 2012
ROSLINDALE, Mass. — You can do it in Seattle, you can do it in New York, you can even do it in Belmont — but in Boston, if you want to raise chickens in your yard, you're pretty much out of cluck.
But now that may be about to change. As Mayor Tom Menino makes a push for “urban agriculture” city officials are rethinking Boston’s chicken restrictions.
From the front this Roslindale home is unremarkable, but out back it’s a Boston version of "Green Acres." There’s a vegetable garden, a miniature apple orchard and six hens that lay about 1200 eggs a year. The chickens were the brainchild of homeowner Steven Gag, who covered the startup costs, and the Geffken kids from next door who provide the labor.
"In the morning, we’ll go over and open up the windows, let them out into their little run, and if you get low on food we’ll refill their food container and get them new water," one of the junior chicken-farmers said.
Gag grew up in Minnesota and had farmers in his family. He believes Americans need to change the way they think about food and sees his foray into chicken farming as a form of activism. "We’ve gotten to this point where we don’t feel like we have enough time to prepare our own food, much less knowing where it comes from. This is really about going back to the roots of food, and to realize how important that is to us," he said.
And the eggs aren’t bad either. "You can taste a brighter taste. It’s much different."
Technically these chickens are illegal. To raise the birds in Boston you’re supposed to get a zoning variance. But with Boston considering changing the rules to spur more urban agriculture, Gag is guardedly optimistic that he won’t be shut down. "We think that there’s enough friendly folks out there, with the mayor being one of them, to get this thing changed so that people can do it," he said. "I see this as part of what we have to do in order to get the word out."
Opponents of urban chicken farming paint a dire picture of the consequences, warning of noise, smells, even disease. Gag said all those concerns were overblown.
"These chickens are all of about three feet away from me, and this is kind of the noise that they make: none," he said. "Smell — as long as every month you muck out the stall, the coop, you’re fine." As for avian flu, "In a very low-impact situation with very few hens, and well taken care of, treat[ed] like pets, you’re not going to see that. It just doesn’t happen."
So if chickens come soon to a yard near you, don’t let it ruffle your feathers.