For the past few days (most of) my brothers and my sister-in-law have been staying with us right here in Lowell. As is the Gries tradition, I took them on a tourist death-march (aka see all the sights you possibly can in your limited time in any location) around Lowell. Not only was it super-fun to see and spend time with everyone, it was also great to experience the loveliness of Lowell through their eyes (and through the magic of instagram, of course ;-) ) Living here everyday, I often forget what an interesting place Lowell is.
I don’t normally write about political issues on my little patch of the internet, preferring to use this space to talk about and explore my interests. So generally the topics here are pretty much kept in the cooking/eating/beer drinking/biking/dog owning/knitting/frittering/vacationing sphere. Strangely enough, one of my interests – allowing Lowellians to keep backyard hens for eggs – has become the hot political topic right here in Lowell (I know what you are thinking, “Marianne, you must live in an urban paradise where issues such as crime, the economy, and unemployment don’t need to be addressed, but instead the big debate is over eggs…”)
Way back in October, I was interviewed by our local, online arts magazine, Howl in Lowell, about why I supported an ordinance that would allow my neighbors to own back yard hens.
When I blogged about the video, I mentioned that my interest in this issue is purely selfish: I want all my neighbors to raise hens and share their delicious eggs with me. While that is obviously true, it was also a bit flip and didn’t really address why exactly, especially as someone who has no interest in owning chickens of my own, I think that my neighbors should have the freedom (with limits) to raise hens.
I first learned about the issue of backyard hens through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition (LFSC.) In conduction the Community Food Assessment, we learned that many residents want more options to produce their own food, including chickens. Through my work with the LFSC, I got involved with the Lowell Backyard Chicken Group. The Backyard Chicken Group has been researching chicken ordinances throughout the country, and has put together a suggestion for an ordinance that makes a lot of sense. It makes a lot of sense because it addresses many of the issues that have come up throughout this chicken kerfuffle (as I’m calling it.)
The suggestions proposed by the group are based on over a year’s worth of research, and include limiting the number of hens that can be kept based on yard size, banning roosters because they are noisy and unnecessary for egg production, and creating a peer-support and resource network to help residents learn about the pros and cons of raising their own hens and to provide education and support to each other. That makes sense to me.
Another thing that makes sense to me? Promoting opportunities to empower residents, increase their self-sufficiency, and make our community more sustainable. Backyard chickens do that. In closing, I am posting a copy of the letter that I sent to all of the members of the Lowell City Council (and I promise that my next post will be back to the usual biking/cooking/eating/knitting/beer drinking/dog walking/home improving shenanigans ;-) )
I am writing to support the ordinance that would allow Lowell residents to keep backyard hens for personal use. I first learned of the issue of raising hens in Lowell through my work with the Lowell Food Security Coalition. As a member of the Lowell FSC, I worked with local organizations and community members to complete the Lowell Community Food Assessment, a community wide study of the food resources and needs in the City of Lowell which can be found online here: http://lowellfoodsecurity.wordpress.com/lowell-community-food-assessment/the-lowell-community-food-assessment-report/. In talking to Lowell residents, the Lowell FSC learned that people want more options for producing their own food, which includes raising chickens.
I think that the ordinance that the Backyard Chicken Group is proposing makes a lot of sense for Lowell. It addresses issues like yard size and overcrowding, noise (roosters are banned,) and the group is planning to set up a resource network for residents interested in raising hens for eggs to help ensure that everything is done in a safe and sanitary manner. The group has done a lot of research on the issue and has looked at ordinances in similarly dense areas like Somerville, MA and Brooklyn, NY.
Chickens help reduce city waste – they eat food scraps and their manure can be composted and used to fertilize soil. Chickens also eat nuisance insects like ticks and slugs. There is no evidence that backyard hens reduce property values, in fact some of the urban areas with the highest property values in the nation allow backyard hens. Backyard hens also give people the ability to produce their own food, and the eggs pack a higher nutritional punch than supermarket eggs, even organic ones. Chickens pose less of a risk for the spread of salmonella then reptiles, which are currently legal in Lowell, and they do not attract any more types of wildlife than those that are attracted by backyard bird feeders, also not against the law.
I am in support of this ordinance because it gives homeowners more choices as to what they do on their land, because it increases self-sufficiency among our residents, because it increases sustainability, and because it can be used as a tool to educate our children as to where food comes from. Also, the eggs just plain taste better.
Walking around my new neighborhood is quite different from walking around my old neighborhood. Our walks used to take us along a busy boulevard on the Merrimack River, our walks now are around an older residential neighborhood (or, urban-suburbia, as I’m calling it) complete with old trees, children playing in the streets, and sidewalks. Some of the sidewalks have these Work Projects Administration plaques, I love coming across them when I am walking the pups.
But first I’ll tie up some loose ends, *ahem* 30 Days of Biking. I didn’t ride every day in April, and I’m not even sure I know/paid attention to how many days I missed. This is the last picture I took, but I know I took at least two rides after this was taken. The end of April was, as I knew it would be, incredibly busy and necessitated a car.
First up was a big work event on April 27th, Sowing the Seeds of Community. A group of amazing local organizations partnered to fundraise for, plan, and execute a community garden build day at six sites throughout Lowell.
At the site that I helped coordinate, we built 26 raised beds, moved six dump trucks of compost (> 30 yards,) in about six hours.
Way back in early February, Kristin and I decided we wanted to buy a house (instead of a condo.) This was a long discussion but Simon and Rudy were the deciding factors – we thought they’d love a yard (yes, we *are* those crazy dog ladies!)
We had taken an excellent First-time Homebuyer’s Class so we knew the importance of putting together a good team. We found a great agent and mortgage broker, got pre-approved, browsed some houses online, and had our first showings the first weekend of March. We planned to give ourselves three months to look and we expected to buy something in July or August. That didn’t happen.
We looked at five houses on Saturday but didn’t love anything. Our agent suggested we go to an open house the next day. We agreed, thinking “Our first open house, fun! We’ll get to know the process.” Of course, because we had plenty of time scheduled to look and we were only going to the open house as a lark, we found it. And put a bid in. That very day.
We decided we were going to close on April 30th so we had plenty of time to get our inspection, fill out tons of paperwork, and anticipate. By the time our closing date came around, we were more than ready. The closing went quickly, our deed was registered, and *poof* we we’re homeowners!
One of the first things we bought was patio furniture and we’ve already been enjoying it (when we’ll get real furniture is a whole nother story, I anticipate an empty living room for months to come ;-) )
What a week it has been. I have lived in Massachusetts for longer than I’ve lived anywhere else in my life. So while I was born in Chicago, and say I’m “from” Connecticut, Massachusetts is really the place that matters. It’s where I’ve chosen to live as an adult (because, let’s be honest, I didn’t have any influence in where I lived as a child) and, while those two years in San Francisco were lovely, I always knew I’d end up back in Eastern Mass (and I always thought that meant the Boston area, until Lowell stole my heart.)
Boston is also where my life as a bike commuter really began. When I first moved to Boston in 1993, I took the T most places. Soon, I realized that the T maps were deceiving and that a lot of Boston was much closer than time spent on the T would have you believe. I started walking places, and then started thinking about biking. I got my younger brother’s hybrid bike from my parent’s house, took a class at MassBike in basic commuter skills, and never looked back. I biked to work. I biked to school. I biked to the bars. I biked everywhere.
I learned to ride a bike in Boston traffic, in a time before there was anything remotely resembling bicycle infrastructure, and that is a skill that has served me well in every place I have lived since. If I hadn’t started riding then, I probably wouldn’t be doing 30 Days of Biking now.
Living with what happened on Monday has been so difficult because it hit so very close to home. My heart absolutely aches for the families and friends of those who were killed; Krystal Campbell, Sean Collier, Lu Lingzi, and Martin Richard; and the far too many who were injured.
I am grateful for the medical professionals who are caring for the injured. I am grateful for all of the courageous men and women in uniform who worked together to make sure that the suspect was caught alive. I am also grateful for our legal system that will ensure that the suspect will be brought to justice. I am grateful for Bostonians and for everyone who held the City of Boston in their hearts. I am grateful that now we can come together and work on healing.
Yesterday was the first time that I have missed riding my bike during a 30 Days of Biking month. I had to drive because of things I had to do for work and I was glued to the radio while I was driving. Once I got home, I was glued to the television. I was so relieved when the suspect was finally caught last night that all I could do was unclench and go to bed.
I am looking forward to moving on and continuing with my usual routines, including riding my bike every day for the rest of April.
As I’m sure you know, there are ways to donate money to the folks most affected by the bombings. One Fund Boston is accepting donations and, if you’re local, there is going to be a fundraiser next Saturday, April 27th, at the Old Court. More info, including how to RSVP, can be found here.