Before Steve Kunselman ran for Ann Arbor City Council, he had to remove the skeletons from his closet – namely, the illegal chicken he kept in his back yard. Now, Kunselman is hoping to change that law. In a proposal before the City Council, Kunselman asked the city to reverse its ban on keeping hens in residential homes. And it’s not as bird-brained as it sounds. If proven safe, this change would promote healthy, environmentally friendly and affordable options for residents to farm their own eggs.

Kunselman’s proposal would add chickens a city ordinance that allows only certain pets to be kept in city homes. It would tack on a host of restrictions for would-be chicken owners as well. Only one- or two-family homes would be allowed to keep up to four hens in regulated coops outside of the home. These chickens could not be slaughtered. Owning roosters is strictly prohibited, and chicken owners will be subject to noise violations if neighbors complain.

Other cities – including New York City, Oakland, Chicago and Seattle – have approved similar urban coops. In addition to being pets, chickens offer a range of benefits. Just like backyard gardens, backyard chickens provide an inexpensive way for residents to control their own food production. Even for organic products, there is a divide between food producers and consumers. Knowing where your food comes from and how it is grown and prepared is imperative.

Not only is the proposal healthy for individuals, it is also healthy for the environment. Buying and growing local food decreases the carbon footprint left by shipping and transporting products long distances. Residents who harvest their own food remove the need for packaging, and farming eggs at home ensures that no growth hormones, antibiotics or other unhealthy medications are used to unnaturally enhance the food products. Chickens are also a good source of fertilizer.

While this plan has its benefits, it is also ruffling a few feathers. City Council has rightly tabled the proposal until it further explores the downsides of backyard coops. Some council members are concerned about the environmental impact of urban chickens and the potential for chickens to spread disease. Others are concerned about who will enforce the new ordinance and whether it will require additional city staffing. Allowing residents to own hens may be an affordable and healthy option for homegrown eggs, but it should also be free of other health hazards.

But if passed, this proposal will help chickens cross the road from farm animal to practical option for a cleaner environment and better health.

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