What's the problem?
Cambridge law does not specifically address the keeping of chickens and ducks. Ordinance allows "accessory use" of land. The keeping of cats and dogs and the maintenance of a vegetable garden are commonly understood to be such accessory use.
Some abutters to 218-220 Putnam Avenue have petitioned the city to disallow the chickens and ducks, claiming that the birds and their coops will attract rats, mosquitoes, and avian flu, and that they represent some kind of public health threat. City inspectors have found that the opposite is likely to be the case; these birds actually eat mosquito larvae, for instance. Beyond that, the five birds increase soil fertility, and provide food (eggs) for their owners. And they are certainly less disruptive to neighbors than barking dogs.
On Thursday, February 11th, at 7:30PM, at the Central Square Senior Center, the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider the abutters' petition, along with the appeal filed by the keepers of the birds, and will (hopefully) come to a clear and fair decision that can help guide Cambridge residents on this issue. An ideal outcome would be a clear decision describing reasonable steps that keepers of chickens and ducks could take to ensure that such accessory use would be legal. Many cities have such ordinances on the books, including New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Seattle, Portland OR, Portland ME, Philadelphia, Chicago, Madison, Sacramento, Burlington, San Antonio, Houston, Minneapolis, Little Rock, Rochester, Miami, Mobile, etc.
Should residents of the city be allowed to use and enjoy their land responsibly, so long as it does not intrude on their neighbors' use and enjoyment? Should people who are raising food on their own land in a safe and sanitary manner be protected by the law?
The answer to both questions is "yes".
It is critical for individuals and groups to regain control over their own food. The industrial food and distribution system stopped serving many of us a long time ago, and if we are not able to create new systems that do serve us, we will be in big, big trouble when the music stops.
Here's what you can do:
- Sign the petition here.
- Call 617-349-6100 and ask to be connected to the Cambridge Zoning Board of Appeals. Verify the time and location of Thursday's meeting. (If they do change it, I will post an update to this blog, but please check for yourself, just to be sure.) Tell them (very briefly!) what you think. Most importantly, show up at the meeting and share your feelings. Prepare a statement to read, if you wish. Meetings like this one can determine policy that lasts decades. Showing up can really make a difference. Anyone who cares enough to show up at one of these meetings is very likely to be heard. See, for instance, my previous post about the raw milk question in Framingham.