Art is the Handmaid of Human Good

Life in Lowell, Massachusetts, USA

Chickens in Lowell?


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 😉 )

Dear Councilors,

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: 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.

Sincerely yours,

Marianne Gries


5 thoughts on “Chickens in Lowell?

  1. Hear, hear!! Nice work, Marianne–as always. 🙂

  2. Great work! I’m grateful that you’re taking the time and effort to pursue this. Thanks! You inspired me to write a letter… here it is!

    Dear Councilors,

    I am writing you today to voice my support of an ordinance allowing Lowell residents to raise and keep hens in backyards.

    I believe that it is important for Lowell to recognize:
    1. That the trend across the nation is for greater self-sufficiency with regards to food production, and that
    2. With the observation of healthy practices, the keeping of backyard hens for personal use can be not only healthy, but educational and empowering, and finally, that
    3. Regulation of backyard hens will minimize health and nuisance risks in a way that an outright ban cannot achieve.

    A sensible plan CAN be crafted that would allow for the use of backyard hens within agreed-upon parameters while remaining respectful of the concerns of all residents.

    Lowell has a proud tradition of applying astonishing creativity in surmounting obstacles. If this creative and collaborative spirit can be utilized here, I have no doubt that Lowell can continue to be a model of transformation and rebirth for other cities across the nation.

    I thank the council for considering this issue carefully and thoroughly.

  3. I would like to know if this issue was persued and if now we can raise chickens. I have 7 in my backyard and my neighbors love them and I realize the same neighbors are learning about chickens.

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