Backyard Chickens for Penfield, NY
Updated: Dec 10, 2020
by Megan Meyer
Town councilman Bob Ockenden feels it is time to change our agricultural town code so more residents can raise chickens for fresh eggs. Currently chickens are only allowed on properties that are 5 acres or more. Brighton, Pittsford, Irondequoit, and the city of Rochester allow residents to own chickens on smaller suburban and urban properties.
I interviewed Bob to hear his views on Backyard Chickens. I also interviewed Penfield resident Kevin Eich who started the Facebook Page Backyard Chickens for Penfield, NY. Anna Cerasoletti lives in Brighton but attends our Penfield Schools and has been raising chickens for several years. She talks about her experience raising chickens. Read these interviews here.
Bob Ockenden, a fourth generation Penfield resident, is one of our newest town board members and has been a strong advocate for green initiatives in our town of Penfield.
Bob why did you feel there was a need to change this Backyard Chicken town code?
I believe that the existing town code was well intended but is much outdated and was in need of a review. I have known Penfield residents who lived on 5 acres or more and raised chickens on their property however, it wasn't until becoming a member of the town board that I realized there were no provisions for our residents with less than 5 acres to own backyard chickens. It is very evident that more and more people are moving towards healthier lifestyles by maintaining backyard gardens and hopefully in the near future backyard chickens for those who are interested. The Covid-19 Pandemic also brought to light the need for change as we witnessed grocery store supply issues as the shelves quickly became empty for certain items. It is my feeling that the more people are able to produce their own fresh and healthy food the better!
How have fellow council members and Supervisor LaFountain responded to your request?
I have spoken with each Council Member and Supervisor LaFountain multiple times about this topic. All have expressed their support and are prepared to help develop an amendment to the town Code to allow backyard chickens.
What are the next steps in the process to move this forward?
Town staff members along with the town legal counsel are working on potential revisions to the code. They have been doing their due diligence by obtaining feedback from other municipalities that currently allow chickens. Also, we have been fortunate to have the interest and input from a group of Penfield residents who have recently provided me with their own data, research, suggestions, and a petition for us to review and share with our staff while we work through the process. Once the suggested revisions are complete it will come back to the town board for review and then a public hearing will be scheduled for us to receive resident input. After the public hearing changes edits, etc. can be made as necessary and then it will go before the town board for a formal vote to change the code.
Kevin Eich, a Penfield resident, is very interested in changing our town code. He is one of the administrators of the Facebook page, Backyard Chickens in Penfield, NY.
When did you start this Backyard Chicken campaign and Facebook Page and what is the value for residents to raise chickens?
When the pandemic began and the world seemed to shut down, we noticed the chaos in the grocery stores and how quickly shortages unfolded. Soon thereafter, price gouging began and we read the owner of a local bakery reporting she paid three times as much for her eggs.
For years, we had been disheartened that Penfield only allows chickens on a plot of 5 acres or more. With our small 1/4 acre property, we try to grow as much of our own food as possible... and a small, well kept flock of backyard chickens would provide us an ethical alternative to being dependent on grocery store eggs.
Someone posted on the Penfield People & Places Facebook page if anyone was in support of backyard chickens. Through our dialogue, we decided it was more productive to have a private group that would allow us to work together and make change.
I wrote a cover letter to the town board members and submitted our petition of 349 signatures. At the March board meeting, one of the members said that it doesn’t take much for panic to set in and common grocery items to become unavailable, and there are residents in Penfield who would like to change the town code to allow backyard chickens.
Why do you think this issue is important for our town of Penfield?
Many of our neighboring towns like Brighton, East Rochester, the City of Rochester, and Irondequoit allow backyard chickens, and prove that this can work successfully and humanely without disturbing others.
Food security is the first and foremost reason why the issue of allowing backyard chickens will make a difference in our community. People have the right to grow and produce their own food so long as they are not being disruptive. Anyone who is striving for self sustainability should consider raising a backyard flock as they have many benefits for the individual, as well as the community. One chicken can lay up to one egg per day. But the benefits extend beyond just food security!
Hens take up little space and act as composters to minimize food waste since their diet can be supplemented with kitchen scraps. Their waste can be composted to create all natural, nutrient rich fertilizer for people to supplement their vegetable and container gardens, flower beds, and berry patches, creating a full circle of sustainability, so to speak.
As an additional community/public health benefit, backyard chickens act as a phenomenal method of natural pest control. Chickens will eat a wide variety of insects including those that can spread disease such as mosquitoes and ticks. One free ranging chicken can consume as many as 300 ticks per day in an infested area! In upstate NY where tick borne Lyme disease shows a trending increase in cases, this would be a huge public health safeguard. Utilizing chickens as a natural method of pest control would lessen people’s dependence on the use of pesticides and insecticides which have the potential to leak into groundwater tables thus protecting the environment.
Keeping even a small well-maintained backyard flock would diminish the dependency on the cruel and inhumane practices of factory farming to obtain mass produced eggs. Chickens that live on factory farms, even in “cage free” operations, live in very cramped and often unsanitary conditions. Having a small well-maintained chicken flock would reorient people with where food comes from and how there is much more involved in healthy food production then just going to the grocery store. I think that in today’s society we have really lost touch with the importance of knowing where our food comes from and what goes into creating quality food.
In light of that educational spirit, keeping chickens is an incredible opportunity for parents to teach real life lessons on responsibility, biology, as well as chemistry. Think about what a great science lesson chickens can teach? I remember learning myself the tip of adding the natural element of baking soda to chicken bedding so that it would neutralize the ammonia in the chicken droppings. These are real life teachable moments that anyone can learn at any age but with students potentially home and learning remotely this would be a great opportunity to implement some hands-on learning that many students crave. I think that backyard chickens could be a way that families can reconnect, and offer a fun new way for parents to be involved in education.
As of now, the board has our list of reasons why changing the code would benefit the town, our petition, and a document I created comparing all the local town ordinances that allow for backyard chickens. We are waiting for a date of a “live” public hearing which will likely take place virtually online. Hopefully the board will be met with many faces in support of this change!
Anna Cerosaletti lives in Brighton, a town that allows residents to raise chickens. She attends Penfield High School and is an active environmentalist. She is a member of the high school environmental club and writes articles on what our high school students are doing for Color Penfield Green.
Anna, what initially made you want to raise chickens and how long have you had them?
I thought it would be so cool to have a close connection to where my food comes from and the everyday care for them excited me. I loved the idea of building a coop and caring for them. I think that the routine and life with backyard chickens seemed to be very raw, real, and grounding to me and I wanted to experience that for myself. At this point we've had them for 3 years and it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
What have you discovered about chickens once you started raising them?
I've learned so much from raising chickens. From designing a coop and building it to dealing with minor health issues I know that these experiences are invaluable. Chickens are smart, very funny, and rather stubborn. We have meal worm treats for them and whenever we shake the bag with the meal worms in it they come running after us to get some. With that, if you come outside without the meal worms for them then they will follow you around until you go get some for them. Chickens, depending on the chicken, are also very talkative. Not in a loud way but they just have their little sounds that are individual to each of them which is really cute.
How do your neighbors feel about having chickens as neighbors?
All of our neighbors love that we have chickens! During the summer we often have 3 dozen plus eggs in our fridge so we give a lot of eggs to our neighbors. We even have some other kids in the neighborhood that we pay to take care of our chickens while we go on vacations.
What advice do you have for people just starting out?:
Definitely do your reading and learn what you can from the internet. That being said, dive into it! Getting chickens is a huge learning curve, a lot of which you can only learn from having the experiences. It can be stressful in the beginning what with worrying about whether neighbors will be ok with them and making sure your coop is predator proof but it gets so much better with time as you get more comfortable and knowledgeable.
Where does the ‘Backyard Chickens’ town code revision stand with our town board?
At the July 8th, 2020 Town Board Meeting members reviewed the draft of revisions to this town code and discussed minor changes they’d like to see. You can find this draft attached to the 7/8/20 Board Agenda. All members approved moving forward with this item.
On July 15th the board plans to formally pass a resolution to set a public hearing for revising our town agricultural code on August 5th.
I encourage town residents interested in this issue to tune in and voice your opinion at this public hearing.
At the town hall meeting on August 5th, Jim Costello, Director of Developmental Services, shared the draft changes to the agricultural code. Public comments were encouraged on the topic that night through August 12th and many people weighed in - mainly supportive though some had genuine concerns about the welfare of the hens.
The town staff will continue to rewrite the code in the coming weeks to address the comments and will revisit this issue at the August 26th meeting, hoping to approve a resolution for backyard chickens for Penfield on September 2nd.