Jacksonville gardeners are uniting to legalize their most beloved, dependable helpers – backyard chickens. Currently, livestock is prohibited inside the city limits without agricultural zoning. But that hasn’t stopped chicken coops from showing up all over prestigious urban neighborhoods like Riverside, San Marco, Springfield and throughout the suburbs as more families search for healthy, affordable, local, sustainable food options.
More than 100 local residents gathered on October 6 to organize Jacksonville’s urban agriculture movement. They’re drafting an ordinance based on ones passed in major cities across that U.S. that legalize backyard hens. They’ll be asking City Council to approve the bill. They already have hundreds of signatures and are launching a campaign to get more. In a few weeks, they’ll announce a “Call City Council Day” to make sure our local lawmakers clearly know this community supports the growing trend in urban gardens.
City Councilman Bill Bishop says this issue is now on the radar of local lawmakers. “I’m open to co-sponsoring a change in zoning if it makes sense. But, it’s a bigger issue than just backyard chickens. We need to address all aspects of urban agriculture – what types of livestock to allow and how to handle the sale of produce.” He says urban gardening is a great thing for Jacksonville. “If zoning laws need to be tweaked, we’ll certainly consider doing so.” Bishop is waiting for citizens to submit a bill for city council to review.
Kevin Songer is helping draft an ordinance that legalizes backyard chickens in Jacksonville. Songer is a local attorney who left his practice to build urban gardens and edible rooftops all around Jacksonville and the world. Kevin and his committee have been studying ordinances passed recently in major cities across the US. Backyard chickens are now legal in cities like New York City, Los Angeles, San Francisco, St. Petersburg, Houston and many others.
“We’re well on our way to developing Jacksonville’s urban agriculture ordinance,” says Songer. “With a code in place, homeowners will clearly know their rights and responsibilities. Failing to acknowledge the large, existing urban hen population is not the answer. We need an accommodating ordinance that protects the rights of all homeowners, preserves property values and is consistent with laws across our country.”
The legality of backyard chickens stepped into the forefront this summer when two prominent urban gardeners were cited for raising livestock in their neighborhoods. Lauren Trad had to give away her three hens a few weeks ago. She told the group gathered on October 6 that her family is heartbroken over the loss of their beloved pets and organic egg producers. She was reported to the city by one of her neighbors. Trad is gathering signatures and support for the urban agriculture movement at http://www.PetitionOnline.com/hens4jax/petition.html.
Amanda Searle was cited for raising eight backyard chickens and several goats. Searle is a leader in Sustainable Springfield, a non-profit that builds community gardens and supports urban agriculture. “All our neighbors know we have hens and goats. They bring their kids to visit and some have chickens of their own now. The only people bothered are city code enforcers.” The city discovered Searle’s pets while in the neighborhood inspecting a burned home.
Searle faces fines of $275 per animal every day she keeps her hens and goats. “It doesn’t make sense. We’re facing excessive fines for living in harmony with the environment. People who waste water on lawns at improper times get small fines.” Code enforcers say they’ll overlook the fines if Searle can prove City Council is open to changing the law. All her neighbors have signed a petition and are helping her gather community-wide support.
How can you help legalize urban agriculture in Jacksonville?
- Contact your City Council Representative. Ask them to support local urban agriculture.
- Show Your Support on SNF’s FaceBook Page. Look for our posts about backyard hens and add your comments.
- Attend a meeting of the newly formed North Florida Urban Ag Coalition. Next one is October 28. Click here for details.
With the rise in food costs, unemployment, disease from processed foods, global warming and concern over produce that travels an average 1500 miles to reach our tables – it makes sense to support North Florida’s Urban Agriculture movement.
Kevin Songer says, “Many of us are returning to the old, established way of living by planting urban gardens and raising chickens. This isn’t new. We just need the city to support us.”
Amanda Searle says, “Industrial agriculture has separated us from our food supply. We don’t realize that meat isn’t a sustainable way to live. Urban agriculture is fulfilling. We know where our food comes from. We respect the resources, costs and environmental impacts of what we eat.”