Thursday, December 25, 2008

A CHICKEN IN EVERY BLOCK

Dan Harkins, Cleveland Scene - On a frigid morning, the soil on the half-acre lot beside Bodnar-Mahoney Funeral Home on Lorain Avenue crunches under your feet like a hard-candy shell. Jocelyn Kirkwood, co-founder of the fledgling Gather 'round Farm, is tossing feed to 16 hens and their fat rooster prince. Shifting from foot to foot, Meagen Kresge, the operation's other half, is surveying the lot's tidy bald mounds and their promise of spring. "A farmer's supposed to be taking vacation this time of year," says Meagen, 38, with a weary roll of the head. "Ha.". . .

This summer, after jumping through hoops for months, Gather 'round Farm received a land-use variance from the Board of Zoning Appeals, allowing them to keep their current chickens. It was an action that's prompted a round of new regulations which Cleveland City Council is expected to consider January 5, to give a little breathing room to those who'd like to raise bees or chickens. But it would also add limits and layers of bureaucracy where once there was open frontier. . .

They have great hopes for the future. They're adding popular items like asparagus to next year's crop. More than 100 people signed in for a fall open house. The Appleseed Child Enrichment Center next door is becoming a partner. They've now cobbled together enough of a clientele to start their own community-supported agriculture business, a program that has customers paying in advance for weekly grab-bags of goodies throughout the growing season. A $5,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation will help it get rolling.

And they're already planning to expand to greener and broader expanses. Several acres behind Riverview Towers on nearby Detroit Road can't be developed because of fear they're on the verge of falling into the Cuyahoga. "Seems perfect for a flock of sheep," says Meagen on a trip around the site. . .

If you're already raising chickens or bees in Cleveland, you're probably breaking the law. Any hive or coop is supposed to be at least 100 feet from adjoining properties. City Planning Director Bob Brown notes, "It would be almost impossible to find a residential lot that would allow you to place a coop or hive that far from your neighbor's property."

The new law would change that, requiring just 5 feet of side setback and 18 inches of rear setback for coops and hives. But there are new constraints too: The law would limit the number of chickens to one per 800 square feet of property (that's six chickens for the average 4,800-square-foot lot) and one beehive per 2,400 square feet. Roosters would get the boot completely unless you've got a full acre. ("It's not gender discrimination," says Brown. "They tend to be noisier than their female colleagues."). . .

City farmer Josh Klein notes that in cities as large as Chicago, Minneapolis and New York, no limits are placed on the number of chickens a citizen may keep. Still, others like Detroit, Boston and Portland, Maine have outright bans. (Most, like Cleveland, fall somewhere in the middle.) "I think they're making this a little more complex than they need to," says Josh. "Cats cause more problems than chickens. And cats are everywhere." Karin Wishner, a beekeeper with hives scattered across a handful of city lots. . .