Chicken Testimony!

Tonight is the night: Hearing number one with the Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee. We’ll need to come out strong to make this happen. In an effort to help folks craft testimony I’m posting my draft testimony here for others to use to craft their own.

Good evening, my name is __________________________ and I live at ____________________________ or I’m here representing _____________________________organization/business/agency.
I am here to speak in favor of passing the proposed chicken hen ordinance.
Cities all over the nation have passed similar ordinances, allowing people to raise chicken hens for the purpose of eggs or to have as pets. There are many reasons why this is a good time for Worcester to pass such an ordinance. In a time of economic uncertainty and with more and more food safety issues, increasing localized control of our food systems is important for the health and safety of residents, our environment, and our food supply. In Worcester, where food security and hunger are very real issues, allowing residents to access an inexpensive source of protein is important. In addition, with our growing population of immigrant and refugee residents, many of whom have an agricultural background or connection to farming, it is also important they are able to continue to practice pieces of their heritage and enrich our city with their knowledge.
Opponents or skeptics of this ordinance fear that chickens will escape, will attract pests and predators, will be noisy, and will create problems for the department of Animal Control here in the city. These are common fears, but they are not supported by data or findings.
In 2010, a “Green Urban Policy” class at DePaul University conducted a survey of 23 municipalities – including nearby cities such as New Haven, CT; Belmont, MA; South Portland, ME; and Buffalo, NY. – that had enacted poultry ordinances between 2005 and 2009.
According to the survey, 17 of the 23 cities reported no problems with chickens getting loose. Ten cities reported finding no violations of their chicken ordinances, while five more reported four or fewer violations. Results were similar regarding a question on the number of citizen complaints about backyard chickens. Thirteen communities reported two or fewer complaints, and two indicated receiving between five and 10 complaints. One city remarked that because their ordinance required chickens to be in the coop at all times, they were having no issues with chickens getting loose or predators attacking. Our ordinance also requires chickens to be in their coop at all times as well.
Many of the cities that boast of their successful chicken ordinance programs have implemented educational programming to help residents understand how to raise chickens in compliance with the ordinance. Here in Massachusetts, the Northeast Organic Farming Association already holds regular backyard chicken raising workshops and has already offered to hold a series in Worcester for residents come Spring of 2012.
I hope you realize in considering this ordinance that the benefits outweigh the drawbacks and that data has shown that with a properly written ordinance such as our proposed ordinance, issues of implementation will be minimal.
Thank you.

Spring Garden Festival!

Don’t miss this great event!  Visit the REC website to sign up to be on their email list so you get notice of these great events right to your inbox!


REC Spring Garden Festival

Saturday, April 16


The REC Office & Castle Street Garden

9 Castle Street

Worcester, MA

garden forum group


How are you celebrating spring?  Join the REC along with long-time and first-time gardeners as we kick off the gardening season together with workshops, community gardener awards and so much more! This year’s workshops include:
*How to start a school garden

*How to Grow a Healthy Garden

*Build Your Own Rain Barrel for Less than $30

*Backyard Chickening

*Composting in Your Own Backyard


We will also hold a Community Gardener Panel and invite all participants to share best practices and troubleshoot obstacles they encounter while gardening.


An exclusive benefit to all who attend: Get the best selection of seedlings by placing your order for the REC Plant Sale Fundraiser before it is avaliable to everyone else. Use your REC Membership for a discount.  Need to renew?  Renew your membership now!


JuliusFor more information, contact REC’s Community Gardens Network Coordinator, Julius Jones at 508-799-9139 or


Rising Food Costs & Gardening

It’s easy to notice the increase in price at the gas pump, but the increase in price in food doesn’t jump out at us as quickly sometimes.  Those of us that buy the same things each week and know the prices by heart will notice right away, but those of us whose shopping habits vary a bit more week by week may not notice until the total rings at the register and it seems to be just a bit more than we expected.  For folks with a fixed income or a dependence on SNAP benefits this can be quite a struggle. 

The Boston Globe ran an Associated Press piece this morning on the rising cost of food and the figure are staggering.  According to the story on whole sale food prices alone, “The Producer Price Index rose a seasonally adjusted 1.6 percent in February, the Labor Department said Wednesday. That’s double the rise from the previous month and the biggest increase since June 2009. Food prices soared 3.9 percent last month, the biggest gain since November 1974. Harsh winter freezes in Florida, Texas and other southern states sent fresh vegetable prices soaring, representing 70 percent of the increase. Tomatoes, green peppers and lettuce all more than doubled in price.”

So how do we balance the need for all people to have access to affordable, healthy food with the fact that many people are struggling financially?  Will the state of the economy continue to push overweight and obesity numbers upward, as people turn to cheap food that’s good for our wallets and tough on our waistlines?  Or is this a time to capitalize on, just as was done in this country during World War II?

Many folks think that this is just the beginning.  Or at least another manifestation of the food crisis of 2008 when we most recently saw huge spikes in food prices worldwide, and many suffered as a result.  Because of the dependency of our food system on petroleum products, and because oil is not as abundant as it once was, our food and oil prices will continue to rise. 

However, we don’t need to panic. During World War II there was a huge campaign to plant Victory Gardens.  We are again in a place where the food system is strained and consumers are experiencing the pain as a result, and its time to be resourceful.  By planting a garden at your house, your school, in a plot in a community garden, or growing in your windowsill, in buckets on your porch or from old soda bottles hanging upside down in a window or porch area (the DIY topsy turvey!), you can save money on expensive fruits and veggies, and get them fresher and more delicious than any supermarket can provide.  This can also help ensure that your health doesn’t have to suffer as a result of rising prices. 

If you’re at a loss for how to get started, consider attending the REC’s Spring Garden Festival on April 16th at the Woo Church on Main Street.  They’ll have all sorts of information, workshops, a seed exchange and more!  There are lots of resources for gardening right here in Worcester, and Spring is coming, so what better time to start than now?

Food Sovereignty and Food Safety

When I think of Food Safety I think of the peanut butter recall, the spinach recall, the beef recalls, and all the salmonella and ecoli that have made its way into huge amounts of mass produced food that was shipped and sold all over the country.  I think of industrial farms and factories. 

And when I think of Food Sovereignty, I think “common sense”.  Of course citizens should be able to control the food we purchase and eat.  We should know what’s in it and where it comes from. 

A small town in Maine has just made the connections through passing a Local Food ordinance that protects small farmers and small producers – what they call “cottage producers” that make and sell products from their own kitchens.  Its an incredibly exciting step for those that want to see our food and our economies re-localized.  The press release that came across my desk this morning is pasted below with links to read the full ordinance as passed. 

March 7, 2011
Sedgwick becomes first town in Maine to adopt protections
SEDGWICK, MAINE – On Saturday, March 5, residents of a small coastal town in Maine voted unanimously to adopt the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance, setting a precedent for other towns looking to preserve small-scale farming and food processing. Sedgwick, located on the Blue Hill Peninsula in Western Hancock County, became the first town in Maine, and perhaps the nation, to exempt direct farm sales from state and federal licensing and inspection. The ordinance also exempts foods made in the home kitchen, similar to the Michigan Cottage Food Law passed last year, but without caps on gross sales or restrictions on types of exempt foods.
Local farmer Bob St.Peter noted the importance of this ordinance for beginning farmers and cottage producers. “This ordinance creates favorable conditions for beginning farmers and cottage-scale food processors to try out new products, and to make the most of each season’s bounty,” said St.Peter. “My family is already working on some ideas we can do from home to help pay the bills and get our farm going.”
Mia Strong, Sedgwick resident and local farm patron, was overwhelmed by the support of her town. “Tears of joy welled in my eyes as my town voted to adopt this ordinance,” said Strong. “I am so proud of my community. They made a stand for local food and our fundamental rights as citizens to choose that food.”
St.Peter, who serves on the board of the National Family Farm Coalition based in Washington, DC, sees this as a model ordinance for economic development in rural areas. “It’s tough making a go of it in rural America,” said St.Peter. “Rural working people have always had to do a little of this and a little of that to make ends meet. But up until the last couple generations, we didn’t need a special license or new facility each time we wanted to sell something to our neighbors. Small farmers and producers have been getting squeezed out in the name of food safety, yet it’s the industrial food that is causing food borne illness, not us.”
“And every food dollar that leaves our community is one more dollar we don’t have to pay for our rural schools or to provide decent care for our elders,” adds St.Peter. “We need the money more than corporate agribusiness.”
Three other towns in Western Hancock County will be voting on the ordinance at or ahead of their town meetings in the coming weeks. Penobscot, Brooksville, and Blue Hill all have the ordinance on their warrants.
Click here to view a copy of the Local Food and Self-Governance Ordinance of 2011.
Bob St.Peter
Saving Seeds Farm
Sedgwick, Maine
Mia Strong
Local Stock Food Cooperative
Sedgwick, Maine