From community gardens to rooftop farms, urban agriculture is booming in Boston. But there is one part of country life that city dwellers have been slower to embrace. Farm animals are still unwelcome in most areas, but that barn door may be cracking open just a bit.
On a sunny day, Khrysti Smyth’s backyard in Somerville is lush with plants, fruit trees, grape vines, and two colorful chicken coops. Smyth’s flock includes 12 hens, who provide about three dozen eggs each week.
Looking to add a little country to her lifestyle, Smyth joined the urban chicken movement in 2008. She learned everything she could about raising chickens and built the coops herself. Then in 2012, she founded Yardbirds Backyard Chickens to help others do the same.
"It's a great way to produce a little bit of our own food," Smyth said. "And now that I'm done it, I'm solidly on board and advocating for everyone."
But neighbors don’t always welcome backyard chickens, expressing concerns about noise, odor, and attracting critters like the proverbial fox in the hen house.
"As far as noise and smell and pests, if they're managed well, which starts with making sure they have enough space in the first place, you can manage those concerns very, very easily," she said.
When Smyth started out, Somerville had no rules on keeping chickens, so she helped the city develop an urban agriculture ordinance, the first of its kind in the Commonwealth.
"Somerville is more progressive than Boston with regards to urban agriculture," Smyth said.
But Boston took a big step forward last year when it issued new standards for urban agriculture, including guidelines for chicken coops, and another favorite, beehives.
Located in the basement of a South End auto body shop, Noah Wilson-Rich's business, The Best Bees Company, installs and manages beehives in densely populated areas. Each hive is built by hand and installed on site, some 340 of them to date, providing homes for over 4 million honeybees working to keep the city's gardens pollinated, and more.
"We found that many hotels in Boston and Cape Cod and surrounding areas are embracing bees as a way to draw in new customers," said Wilson-Rich. "Many restaurants are using the fresh local honey in their bars and recipes, too."
But even better than local honey or fresh eggs, Smyth said her chickens are now part of the neighborhood.
Tad Read, a senior planner for the BRA and part of the agency’s Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative, discussed birds and bees on Greater Boston: