Monday, December 6, 2010

Copy of a letter I sent to Council this afternoon

Dear Councillors:

I am writing to urge you to be open-minded as regards opening the discussion on backyard hens in Windsor, which has important ramifications for the locavore food movement in this region.  It goes far beyond a handful of residents wishing to achieve better control over their own food supply.

I am aware that many of you feel backyard hens are a no-go for our city.  At first glance, I can’t say I’m surprised, given how far removed chickens have become from our daily lives.  The risks of disease and contamination from large-scale factory farming have had the unfortunate effect of mistakenly convincing some people that those risks are likewise present in small backyard coops. 

You may be surprised to learn that backyard chickens have broad support in Windsor, as shown by over 200 supporters of the region’s Facebook page, and over 300 votes in favour (against just 6 against) in a public poll.  Many of those people do not wish to own chickens themselves, but feel our community will benefit from being tolerant towards those who do.

Last week I was at the Dr. David Suzuki School when the Samsung wind turbine announcement was made.  I feel strongly that the long term success of the region’s green energy strategy, as well as its economic revival, depends on our ability to follow through with green initiatives that touch the way we conduct our lives on a day to day basis.

In that regard, Council needs to show its unconditional support for environmental initiatives, especially those that have the potential to improve our food supply – from backyard hens to support of farmers’ markets and community gardens.  By embracing a locavore strategy, we can make Windsor an attractive place for the creative class so many of you talked about in the run-up to the election.

Windsor is lucky to have one of the best and longest growing seasons in Canada.  We have almost unlimited potential to rebrand the area as an eco-hotspot.  However, we are currently hamstrung by a conservative blue-collar mentality which prizes automobiles over green forms of living, and an over-concentration of fast food outlets that have led to above average obesity rates. 

The chronic difficulties of attracting enough medical professionals to this region are well-documented.  I am sure you are keen to attract other highly qualified professionals too, as well as stemming the brain-drain to cities that are perceived as being more progressive.  Case in point: this afternoon’s shock announcement that John Morris Russell, the conductor of the WSO, is moving to Cincinnati.  There is no doubt in my mind that this decision was related to a perception that Cincinnati has more to offer his young family than Windsor ever could.

I can tell you quite frankly that your decision to indefinitely defer the Licensing Commission’s recommendation to form a working group on backyard chickens was more disappointing to me than a no-vote following a comprehensive review of all the facts could ever be. 

To me, this was a clear message that Windsor’s Council is not particularly interested in ideas submitted by residents.  Dismissive comments from councillors, the lack of any response at all from my own ward councillor, the 15 minute discussion just to arrive at a date to put the matter back on the table, as well as the recent back-and-forth about the location of the Downtown Windsor Farmers’ Market send a clear signal that “hot topic” locavore food matters are way down on Windsor’s priority list.

I fully agree that control over our budget is a high priority, and I would be the last to suggest the expenditure of huge resources in this regard.  Instead, I would recommend “working smarter, not harder”.  For example, instead of lengthy debates to establish dates and other fine details, I urge you to minimize the deliberate use of bureaucratic obstacles that hamper, rather than help the proposal.  You can also reduce costs by taking advantage of volunteer help from residents and local aid organizations.

As regards backyard hens, I would be honoured to serve as a volunteer on a committee, as recommended by the Licensing Commission.   It is my understanding is that several other residents are also available in a volunteer capacity. 

Please feel free to contact me to discuss this matter further.
Philippa von Ziegenweidt

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Please keep the Windsor urban chicken discussion going! We love to 'read your constructive comments.