Playing chicken with farming

There is nothing wrong with wanting to play farmer. I do it every year. 


It can be a great hobby, provided you have a good day job. My hobby is a little bigger than most — OK, it’s a part-time career — and it grew out of business that has been carrying on in my family for more than 110 years in our current location alone.


But a hobby is just that, a pastime, a skill set not related to providing a sustaining income.


Some people restore cars, but that doesn’t make them mechanics. Some folks fly airplanes, but they aren’t commercial pilots. Some garden, but they don’t have a truck farm.


Raising livestock in the city? I am OK with that personally, but people shouldn’t be telling folks they are doing it because it is sustainable, suggesting that urban critters are living better than the farmed ones, are more environmentally friendly or that the food generated is safer and more nutritious.


Toronto is currently experiencing the debate around chicken rearing in the city, and it looks as though it will go ahead on a trial basis in four neighbourhoods.


We don’t raise livestock in urban areas for a variety of reasons, such as zoonotic diseases. Avian and pig flus are only a tiny tip of the human health issues that happen when humans and critters share too much.


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There are safer fertilizer choices than producing raw manure for a urban vegetable garden. The city won’t let folks have outhouses, either.


And when arguing for new, urban municipal farming rules, it should not be implied, but currently is, that professional farmers aren’t sustainable. It is the backyard farm that doesn’t have an environmental farm plan or completed a lifecycle analysis on the project.


Those coops built from materials bought at the home centre, picked up in an SUV, along with those 24 fertilized eggs, the special 45 kilometre, one- way trip to get 50 pounds of poultry feed and a heat lamp — that’s not sustainable. On a dollar per egg or pound of chicken basis, it is an expensive hobby, and one that is robbing the planet.


Urban advocates for city agriculture shouldn’t be criticizing farming for being unsustainable, implying its food is unsafe or the animals not cared for appropriately. We leave that to the amateurs and their giant carbon footprints.


Go ahead, send me mail at mike.raine@producer.com.

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