Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"Why did we eliminate these in the first place?"

Growing up in Cleveland Ohio, most of the families in our neighborhood had gardens. My grandmother had one. She also had apple and peach trees. Walk down to Quincy Avenue - our main commercial street and you could buy fresh eggs from a little store that had chicken coops out in the back.

Back to the future. (GW)

Urban farms closer to taking root

Appleton considers codes to allow bees, fish, chickens

By Nick Penzenstadler
March 13, 2012

APPLETON — Sustainability advocates may make more progress than they first thought with a push to allow backyard chickens within city limits.

Appleton's planning department bumped up plans this week to revise its rulebook regarding "urban farms" and the keeping of all critters — including bees and fish — along with community gardens.

The city's Plan Commission instructed staff Monday to continue work on code amendments that would set out rules for urban agriculture.

"We're not looking just at chickens, or bees, but the whole animal issue and urban farms, and gardens," said Bruce Roskom, the city's planning supervisor. "We're looking at it from a holistic and community value standpoint."

Appleton's health department is drafting an ordinance regarding raising backyard hen chickens to take to the full Common Council this spring.

The planning department presented its own comprehensive 13-page report Monday about regulating broad urban farming.

"Urban farms" refer to land or rooftops managed for growing, harvesting and packaging fruits, vegetables or flowers with the intention of eating or selling the harvest.

As a standalone to the farms and gardens, the city could take up further regulation of urban chickens, beekeeping and aquaculture or fish/aquatic plant production.

Appleton has rules on the books about keeping apiaries, or bee hives. A special permit is required and only issued to nonresidential areas for educational use.

Roskom said Lawrence University is one of the only two entities to hold a permit. The university's beekeeper said Monday that zero stings have been reported in a year since the hives were installed.

Further beekeeping permits could be a sticky situation because of the fear of allergic reaction to stings.

Madison's City Council took up the issue this month and will consider allowing six hives set back 10 feet from a public sidewalk and 25 feet from neighboring homes.

Arguments based on bee stings are often persuasive but unfounded, said Craig Petros, the state's bee inspector with the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

"There's a misconception about how often they sting," Petros said. "Most of the stings are wasps and hornets, and most of the people with fears don't know the difference. To fear bees is irrational."

Still, Plan Commission member Lisa Carpiaux acknowledged the potential safety hazard with bees.

"I'm in favor of being a more sustainable city, but I'd like the neighbors to have some input on this since it's a serious health risk," Carpiaux said. "I'd also like to have it on an annual permit basis so there could be some review."

Mayor Tim Hanna said the report was meant to start the broader conversation about appropriate uses for urban farms, including plants and animals.

Roskom said the discussion regarding the bees and chickens is fascinating given their budding popularity nationwide.

"People look at it as something new and special, but if you go back 50, 100 years, we had those kinds of uses. What's old is new again," Roskom said. "Part of this discussion has to relate to why did we eliminate these in the first place? That's the kind of question we'll ask."


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