A Chicken In Every Plot?

“We thought, we should do something,” remembers Kathleen McTigue, Director of City Farms!, which provides urban agriculture support. She’s talking about a light bulb that went off when she realized that although some community gardeners quietly keep chickens, they don’t crow about their successes. In fact, because most weren’t sure whether keeping chickens in NYC was even legal—they didn’t make a peep.

Heifer International awarded the City Chicken Working Group funding to develop nine urban chicken projects over the next three years and Kathleen began by compiling a handbook of best practices for integrating hens into city gardens: they eat garden scraps, their manure is rich compost, and their eggs are a source of healthful food or micro-enterprise.

But perhaps the handbook’s section of greatest interest explains the city and federal codes that govern urban flocks. Live roosters are prohibited city-wide, as are ducks, geese and turkeys. But hens are legal throughout NYC, whether in commercial, industrial, or residential zones. If you’re raising chickens to eat, they must be enclosed. You may only sell eggs on your own property, and if you sell live chickens, you need a permit—which is free. But unless you plan to eat them, you need neither permit or nor enclosure, and although you could get into hot water over problems like smell or rats, there’s no legal limit to the size of your flock. The handbook also includes suggestions on coop design, and how to talk to your neighbors about your feathered friends.

City Farms! surveyed gardeners to identify interested parties and heard from 18 Brooklyn community gardens excited to learn more. Given the news this spring, feedback included more than a few appalled clucks expressing anxiety about avian flu.

They also heard from Brooklynites who already keep chickens, including one whose flock of eight is right at home a few blocks from the Coney Island boardwalk. Several gardeners wrote that their chickens make them happy. One, an immigrant from Puerto Rico, wrote, “This reminds me of my childhood. Keeping chickens helps me keep my culture, too.” For more information, visit justfood.org.