Proposed Pittsburgh Agriculture Ordinance Ruffles Some Feathers

Agriculture isn't just for country farmers anymore. As more and more city folks want to have a hand in their own food production, urban beekeeping, commercial gardening and raising chickens have become more common. The City of Pittsburgh thinks it needs to update its agricultural ordinance to regulate this trend. Reviews are mixed among the people the law will impact most. The Allegheny Front's Kara Holsopple has our story.

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OPEN: Agriculture isn't just for country farmers anymore. As more and more city folks want to have a hand in their own food production, urban beekeeping, commercial gardening and raising chickens have become more common. The City of Pittsburgh thinks it needs to update its agricultural ordinance to regulate this trend. Reviews are mixed among the people the law will impact most. The Allegheny Front's Kara Holsopple has our story.

NAT SOUND: Chickens clucking
HOLSOPPLE: Alison Alvarez loves her chickens.

ALVAREZ: I think they're the best pets ever. It's wonderful to have a pet that's happy to see you every time you come home.

HOLSOPPLE: And lays eggs. But Alvarez is worried that a new Pittsburgh ordinance will mean that she has to give up her brood.

MUNSON: This way. This way. We're going to go this way now. Come on.

HOLSOPPLE: As her husband Clark Munson lures the hens into the coop in their fenced backyard, Alvarez says she thought that she'd taken all the right steps to keep her chickens in the city.

ALVAREZ: We made sure to call Animal Control before we got the chickens and see whether they were legal in Pennsylvania. We were told by Animal Control that we were allowed up to five pets -- any type of pets and the only ordinance is that we can't have fowl-at-large. All chickens, ducks, geese have to be fenced.

HOLSOPPLE: A proposed city ordinance would mandate that Alvarez's three Rhode Island Reds be farther away from her neighbors' properties. Alvarez cries foul.

ALVAREZ: I think our property's going to end up being a little too small, too narrow for us to keep our chickens, which is disappointing because chickens don't require a lot of space. We've made sure with our neighbors that they don't disturb anyone.†

MEETING SOUND:
HOLSOPPLE: Across town, a food advisory group is buzzing about how the proposed law could hurt local hives. At a meeting of The Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, Danae Clark says Pittsburgh bee and chicken keepers should collaborate on any changes to the ordinance. The law calls for a 15-foot setback from any property line and 2,500-square-foot minimum per hive.

CLARK: I think the size, the 2500 square foot alotment size is too restrictive - there are a lot of lots in this city that are a lot smaller and those people should not be prevented from urban agriculture.

HOLSOPPLE:† But the city says that it's all for urban farming and an updated law would reflect the rights of beekeepers, chicken owners and their neighbors. Grow Pittsburgh, a local nonprofit, adds that the new proposal would help commercial gardening in the city. The ordinance would get rid of a clause that requires urban fruit and vegetable sellers to have at least a five acre lot.

"Urban farming" is a hot new buzz word, says Michael Levenston.† He believes Pittsburgh is moving in the opposite direction with some of the stipulations of this ordinance. Levenston is with City Farmer News, a website which has been collecting urban agriculture news stories since 1994.

LEVENSTON: From our point of view the national trend would be for cities to loosen up their ordinances and bylaws so that life becomes easier for anybody involved in urban agriculture whether that be bees or chickens or growing food. So cities are encouraging this practice now.† It is seen as sustainable and green practice, and we are seeing that in cities across North America.

HOLSOPPLE: Whether or not Pittsburgh will be more conservative than the national trend remains to be seen.† A public hearing about the new law is scheduled for February 16th.† City beekeepers, chicken owners and produce sellers say they will be there as the new city plans are hatched.

For The Allegheny Front, I'm Kara Holsopple.†