In 2014, the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy was presented to City Council and the six rural municipalities in the area. The Food Strategy is about strengthening the connection between food and community by using food as a tool to achieve such goals as healthy people and neighbourhoods, environmentally sustainable and climate ready cities, and strong local economies.
Through the numerous rounds of community consultation that were undertaken to develop the Food Strategy, backyard chickens came up again and again as a priority for people. For this reason, one of the actions under the urban agriculture pillar of the Food Strategy document mentions backyard chickens. Not surprising since the goal of urban agriculture under the Food Strategy is to "increase food production in the urban landscape and support the participation of citizens in urban agriculture activities." The Food Strategy was unanimously endorsed by Thunder Bay City Council in June of 2014.
The following year, an Implementation Plan was developed with community input to help guide the implementation of the Food Strategy. Since there was such strong interest on the part of the community to see the issue of backyard hens taken up by the Food Strategy, one of the twenty priority projects identified in the 2015 Implementation Plan was to “lead a community consultation process on backyard chicken policies and regulations to inform land use planning in the Thunder Bay area."
After hearing from the Food Strategy, City Council directed Administration to support the Food Strategy's 2015 Implementation Plan through the Corporation’s 2015-2018 Strategic Plan.
The Food Strategy's approach in taking up this issue has been one grounded in research and meaningful consultation. The first step was meeting with staff at both the Health Unit and the City to help design a research project to better respond to key questions and concerns. The Food Strategy looked at ten cities to get a better understanding of their experiences. Looking at the backyard chicken by-laws in other cities helped and speaking with their city staff also helped with determining best practices. For instance, most cities don't allow roosters!
Having done the research and seeing that backyard chickens is something that can work well in cities, the Food Strategy wanted to gauge the level of public support for backyard hens. Not only this, it was important to know what concerns people have as well as what they might like to see in a by-law.
In February, an online survey was hosted on the Food Strategy's website. Over 500 people filled out the survey. In April, an Open House on the proposed by-law change was also held. Nearly 400 people attended.
Survey Results: 75% of people who filled out the survey were in favour of allowing backyard chickens in the city.
Through the online survey and Open House, we learned that people are mainly interested in having chickens because they want to enjoy the taste of fresh eggs. Other reasons people are in support:
Five main areas came up through the consultation process as key concerns for people. These were noise, smell, disease, rodents and predators, and animal welfare.
In mid-April, the Food Strategy presented the results from the community consultation process and research findings to City Council. The Food Strategy made a series of recommendations that it asked Council to consider. The first was to make a change to the zoning by-law so that small numbers of chickens would be permitted in urban and suburban areas of the city. Drawing on best practices from other cities, the Food Strategy also made a series of recommendations to address concerns over noise, smell, rodents and predators, and animal welfare.
After the Food Strategy's deputation, Council voted to have Administration prepare a report with options for moving forward and associated costs. This report was brought back to Council at a Public Meeting on June 20th. Public Meetings are required when Council is considering making amendments to the zoning by-law.
Council voted to have Administration bring the proposed by-law forward at a future Committee of the Whole meeting. If Council votes in favour of the by-law at that time, the by-law will be ratified and become law.