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Planting seeds for urban agriculture

Cranbrook has begun the first steps to creating a strategy around urban agriculture. At a Monday city council meeting, mayor Wayne Stetski put forward a notice of motion on an Urban Agriculture Strategy.

Stetski noted that Cranbrook currently doesn't have a specific strategy or policy with respect to urban agriculture. The city has received a number of requests and expressions of interest in conducting various forms of agricultural activities within city limits.

The Urban Agriculture Strategy would do a number of things. It would promote guidelines, actions and policies with respect to urban agriculture; promote sustainability and food security; support economy initiatives for the agricultural sector; and provide support when seeing funding opportunities for agricultural related projects.

Coun. Sharon Cross attended a consultation with the Ministry of Agriculture, that included farmers and ranchers from the area.

“In 2004, when the province made farm gate sales illegal, it led to quite a loss in the East Kootenay of our producers,” Cross said. She then read out some statistics.

In 2001, there were 151 cattle ranching and farming operations and in 2011 there were 78. There were 25 hog and pig farms in 2001, and in 2011, there was one. In 2001, there were nine poultry and egg producers and in 2011 there was one. There were 56 sheep and goat farms in 2001, and in 2011 that went down to five.

“So I do support the resolution, I’m a little concerned about the inclusion of chickens at this point,” Cross said. “I think we have a ways to go and I’ve had a number of ranchers and farmers say that since that legislation was removed they are really having a hard time making ends meet. I think we have an obligation to our neighbours to encourage their economic sustainability, so I’m a little concerned about the chicken part of the agricultural component at this time. There would only be one exception that I’d consider.”

Stetski said there would be ample opportunity to hear both sides of the chicken discussion as the strategy moves forward.

“That is just one part of the Urban Agriculture Strategy,” he said. “I’m sure we’ll have that discussion and I’m assuming the strategy will include public input.”

Later in the council agenda, there was three letters of correspondence pertaining to the subjects — one on the Urban Agriculture Strategy and two on urban chickens.

Jessica Windle, Wildsight Food Sustainability Program manager, wrote a letter commending council for bringing forward the topic.

“A sustainable food system in our region offers countless benefits to residents, commerce and the ecosystem around us,” Windle wrote.

On the topic of chickens, resident Jim Kennedy said council should gauge the feelings of the population before changing bylaws to allow the raising of chickens.

“The concept of urban agriculture in our community is laudable and should be encouraged by all means, but restricted to gardening,” Kennedy wrote.

Resident Angela Sanders had the opposite opinion and gave a number of reasons that backyard chickens would be beneficial.

She noted that the issues with odour from chickens comes largely from people familiar with large scale chicken keeping.

“A well-managed and small flock of 4-5 chickens will not produce a volume of manure that cannot be readily managed by a responsible owner,” Sanders wrote.

On the topic of noise, she wrote that it is the roosters that make noise, so as long as roosters are not permitted, then sound is minimal. Hens sleep during the night and only make clucking noises in the daytime.

She said bylaws and registration could keep poor conditions to a minimum.

On the topic of managing chickens past egg-laying age, she suggested that a service be set up with the butchers, abattoirs or farms for people who don’t want to keep their chickens.

The last thing she mentioned was the there will not be a likely issue with predators.

“I’m not sure that chickens will encourage predators any more than cats/dogs and their food, fruit trees, garbage or any other attractant,” she said.

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