Illicit chickens ruffle neighbors’ feathers

March 2, 2012
By

While the process to legally welcome chickens into the Boston cityscape has begun, makes Jamaica Plain chicken-keepers happy, it may raise concerns with their neighbors.

A JP resident who lives near an illicit chicken-keeper spoke to the Gazette about how it has created tension between herself and her neighbor. She asked to remain anonymous to prevent legal trouble for her neighbor. She will be referred to as “Mary.”

Among the concerns are possible health risks and the heightened traffic due to the chicken-keepers selling their eggs.

“I am concerned about the emphasis this neighborhood shows on private property and doing as we like with it,” Mary said. “In the case of the chickens, there is an issue about changing a residential area into a business zone as if it does not affect anybody else.”

A chicken-keeper—and JP resident—agreed to speak to the Gazette on the condition that her identity would not be revealed. She will be referred to as “Jane.”

“Cottage industries and bartering are a part of the human condition. It will become more and more the case, as folks see the value of local and the dire need for reducing carbon footprint,” Jane said.

Mary also expressed concerns about proper sanitation and disease management for urban chickens.

Barbara Ferrer, a JP resident and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told the Gazette that chicken health problems should not be a concern.

“With common-sense precautions, you can prevent most problems” like salmonella, Ferrer said. “I wouldn’t say there’s any grave risk.”

Ferrer mentioned diseases spread by cats and dogs, like toxoplasmosis, transmitted to humans through cat feces, as a much more common risk.

When the Gazette asked about avian flu, Ferrer replied, “In the U.S., that’s not a concern.”

Another concern is teaching questionable lessons to any children involved.

“When parents dismiss neighbors’ concerns, we model for our children profound lack of respect for other human beings,” Mary said.

Steven Gag, a Roslindale resident who keeps chickens in a joint effort with his neighbor’s kids, spoke to the Gazette about the children’s involvement.

“We have looked at our chickens as a learning project. We are learning not just about raising chickens but also about the politics of changing attitudes and laws,” Gag said. “We are straddling the ethical line….[K]ids who have seen and petted our chickens are being made aware of why the law needs to be changed and how it is done,” he continued.

“I asked my 12-year-old daughter this. She said, ‘It may be illegal but it is not really ‘bad.’ There is a difference. People should have the right to feed themselves and produce their own food within reason,” Jane said.

Mary also brought up the issue of privilege surrounding the chickens, concerned about immigrants who may need to keep the hens as a food source as opposed to more affluent residents who keep them for non-financial reasons.

“Part of our project is to challenge the existing system for growing and selling food. When you challenge something as powerful as this you have to break some rules,” Gag said. “We hope that we are doing so with a good dose of concern for our fellow human beings.”