Jeff Stewart

This past week my wife and I traveled to Seattle, where I met with a dietician at the University of Washington Medical Center. During this meeting the subject of eggs as part of one’s diet came up. Eggs received a divergent evaluation from this adviser. I learned the nutritional value of an egg depends, in part, on the hen’s environment (whether a local farm or commercial feed lot), the health of the animal, and the nature of the feed (for instance, whether it contain adulterations such as genetically modified organisms, hormones or antibiotics).

While commercial farm eggs generally did not rate highly with this adviser because of their perceived inferiority, locally produced ones did. Generally these eggs are produced from chickens living in well-designed coops with adequate space and runs. They enjoy a more natural environment, are better fed and healthier, and subsequently produce a quality egg. And the dietitian recommended that this type of egg would be a worthwhile addition to my diet.

Which is all very interesting (or not), but what’s the point?

Recently the subject of keeping poultry on one’s property came up at a borough assembly meeting. Borough code does not allow poultry on properties zoned R1, R2 or R3. Following complaints, apparently the borough sent out letters to some people who have chickens on their property notifying them that they were out of compliance with borough code. And a group of these folks showed up at a recent assembly meeting asking for relief from borough enforcement of this code provision and providing a solid basis for this request.

Subsequently, the assembly requested the borough manager cease sending out such letters until the assembly had a chance to look further into the matter, which seems a reasonable decision. So, where do we go from here?

I mentioned this conundrum to the UWMC dietitian. She noted that both New York City and Seattle have regulations governing the keeping of poultry in a residential environment. For example, New York City allows apartment residents to have up to three chickens in their apartments.

Stepping back, we come to a strange situation where Kodiak, a very nutritionally conscientious community, wants to limit the availability of quality eggs in our community, while cities such as New York City and Seattle have code provisions to promote it. Which to me seems quizzical. So what can we, as a community, do to responsibly promote local egg production in a residential neighborhood?

We could start by having the assembly address the issue. Possibly they might begin by calling a special municipal election to determine if the electorate wishes them to consider whether the chicken or the egg came first. Based on this determination, the assembly could then develop original code language (hopefully not in hen scratch) to support local egg production through best management practices, while at the same time being sensitive to local neighborhood concerns.

Alternatively, the assembly could task the Community Development Department (working alongside local poultry-keeping residents) to adapt language from codes of other municipalities to the Kodiak environment and then present this language to the assembly for consideration.

Which might be the most efficient approach.

A more comprehensive approach might be to look back to the 2007-09 timeframe, when Kodiak had an organization called Sustainable Kodiak, a volunteer amalgamation of cottage industry artisans and sober community advocates organized into workgroups with the goal of improving civic life here on the island. The group is no longer with us, but the assembly might wish to consider resurrecting a similar group (as an advisory body) to help address issues like this.

All of which, of course, is just my opinion.

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