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Eggs-actly wrong 

Talk about a coincidence.

On January 18, Edinburgh Street resident Louise Hanavan received a letter from the city telling her that her three chickens---“Bernadette,” “Captain Crochet” (so-named because she has a little hook claw) and the eponymously dubbed “Chicken”---had to leave their backyard coop, for being in contravention of Halifax’s Land Use by-law.

This chicken kerfuffle was pioneered by one of Hanavan’s across-and-down-the-street neighbours, who complained the hens’ feed was attracting rats. I won’t drive this point much, but, jeez, it is a harbour town. And I don’t think the last rat we found in our basement was after chicken feed, unless a breed of stealthy underground chickens have taken up residence down there without our consent. (If so, where are my eggs, birds?)

January 22, author Thomas Homer-Dixon spoke in Halifax at a benefit for the Ecology Action Centre. Homer-Dixon is the best and rarest kind of academic---mind-bogglingly intelligent, yet smart enough to deliver his message in a way that doesn’t make you want to slice your ears off with a butter knife because you’re bored.

Homer-Dixon’s latest book is 2006’s The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization. And that was what he worked to summarize, talking about climate change, consumerism and values.

One message? If we want to make it through looming global environmental calamity we have to start building more “resilient” communities---ones that can solve problems creatively, ones that can take care of themselves, and ones that understand self-sufficiency has global implications.

It was all pretty high-brow, really. But Louise Hanavan’s pecking, bwaaaaking, feathered trio could have strutted up onto the stage and presented themselves as the dumbest and most perfect example of one way a household, a street, a community
and a city can work toward becoming
more resilient.

Hanavan’s one-year-old Rhode Island Red and Bard Rock chickens’ warm little eggs---in the winter, Hanavan says “most days, we get two, some days three” and in the summer “three and sometimes four”---nourish Hanavan and her partner with food that is dependable, safe, easily accessible and has no negative impact on the environment.

According to Becca Green, who’s completing her MSc thesis in nutrition with an emphasis on food security, this isn’t just about eggs. It’s about environmental sustainability, decreasing food miles (which Hanavan’s achieving to beautiful extreme), and access to nutritious, safe food. “It’s about human dignity,” she says.

Thank your lucky eggs Sheila Fougere gets it.

The councillor for Connaught-Quinpool has agreed to bring the issue of urban poultry to council chambers February 11. (Though this is after Fougere initially completely missed Hanavan’s hens’ deeper significance. “Three hens in 10 years on one property,” she told the Chronicle Herald, wasn’t something she was willing to bring
to council.)

Mayoral hopeful Fougere, who walks the talk when it comes to bikes and promoting active transportation in this city and who gets big props for having eloquently begged with her council-cousins not to widen Chebucto Road, should have known better from the start. These hens are roosting right in Fougere’s political backyard. A global issue with a local link scuttled up and practically pecked her in the ass.

Look, I have no misgivings about where these chickens will end up. And, no, I don’t mean on the dinner table (laying hens are only ever good for stock, anyway). Hanavan’s hens will almost certainly soon be on the road to a Bridgewater-area farm. 

But the legacy of these chickens could be a galvanizing force in this city.

Right now, three petitions are on the go, supporting urban poultry-raising in Halifax (allocations for a maximum of three egg-layers are common in many large cities). There’s a poultry proponent pep rally
scheduled for February 11 at City Hall, too. This may not stop the eviction of Hanavan’s hens (they’ve been granted an extension through February 29) but it could be the impetus to change the by-law and to make more people realize we need to change the way we look at our food and the ways we organize our communities. 

Chicken, Bernadette and Captain Crochet, for their part, will be happy to stay, or happy to go. Chickens can withstand low temperatures, urban environments and even misguided neighbours. They are, I’m told, resilient birds. The big question is, how resilient are we? a

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