I love the concept of farm-to-table — the social movement that advocates for buying and eating locally grown ingredients. I’ve happily filled up tote bags of baby carrots, spring onions, okra and potatoes grown in urban spaces. What’s more, I regularly visit local farmers markets to buy freshly caught fish and locally farmed meats.
But though I embrace farm-to-table, in general, I prefer my farm to be farther away from my table — and certainly farther than my neighbor’s backyard. I realize this puts me at odds with all the folks hoping the Cambridge City Council will finally sign off on local regulation making it okay to tend chickens in the city. City is the operative word.
I can’t help but wonder how many Cambridge residents clamoring for backyard chickens actually have a clue about the everyday reality of chicken keeping? I’m guessing they’re imagining a soft-lens, gingham-lined basket experience of gathering eggs in a chicken coop designed by Magnolia lifestyle maven Joanna Gaines.
But I know better. I’ve seen chicken keeping up close. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time visiting my grandparents who lived in Newellton, a small rural town in Louisiana. Emphasis on rural. I woke up with the rooster’s crow. The rooster may have ruled the roost, but those chickens were out of control. They were the original free-range birds, running around without restraint in the back of the house where my grandmother kept a close eye on them. She made my sister and me help feed them and collect the just-laid eggs. I was a city girl who ordinarily loved to play in the dirt, but the chicken yard repulsed me — the dust, the droppings, the squawking! And the glaring side-eye from the chickens when we reached into the coop.
That experience alone is enough for me to say no to backyard chickens in the city, but then there is also the ominous alert posted online by the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife that warns, “Read this if you keep backyard chickens.” Division experts say Black bears attacking chickens and coops are the number one human-bear conflict in the state. And that coops and chicken wire are “inadequate protection from the bears”; they suggest electric fencing. Now, most of the bear chicken attacks have occurred in Western Massachusetts, but the bears have expanded their wanderings eastward. Oh, joy.
The Cambridge City Council will likely take up the ordinance for hen keeping at a council meeting later this month. By all accounts, the council is likely to approve it. Yes, there will be permits, rules and regulations, but what about those of us who never envisioned having chickens as neighbors? I’m madder than a wet hen.