eggs & chickens

Easter is approaching, and people are buying eggs: Chocolate, jellybean, and “real”. In our society, eggs go with Easter like Santa with Christmas. I am part of this: I have fond childhood memories of searching for Easter eggs in the garden – what a thrill! And also of colouring eggs each year with my mom and brothers. Later we did the same with my daughter, and she now continues this on her own.

Where do the eggs come from? In my tradition, it is the Easter bunny who brings (and makes?) them. But of course, most eggs – perhaps even the Easter eggs? – are produced by chickens. And where are the chickens? Many of them subsist in endless rows of tiny wire cages, wings and even beaks clipped, perhaps medicated against the diseases which tend to be a problem in these operations. That is how we get our cheap eggs in the supermarket. A smaller percentage get to go outside during the day and forage on fenced-in pastures of various sizes. These are the free range chickens. In German, they are called “glückliche Hühner” – happy chickens. I cannot bring myself to buy eggs that were not laid by happy chickens, even though they are substantially more expensive.

Some people here in Edmonton have gone further: They keep their own backyard chickens (see River City Chickens Collective). It seems like a no-brainer: You get fresh eggs from happy chickens, bug control, and manure for your garden. Plus they are entertaining to watch and kids love them. There is just one problem: The city does not allow chickens. Last week one urban chicken keeper got busted: She was fined $500 and asked to remove the birds. Why are chickens not allowed? A city official quoted in the Edmonton Journal cited noise and disease concerns. I’ll let you decide whether these concerns are any worse for chickens than for dogs or pigeons – both allowed by the city. Personally, I think there is no reason why the city should not allow up to, say, 6 hens per yard. Ironically, Edmonton has been hiding behind its city-wide food and agriculture strategy: No changes will be made to the bylaws until that strategy is developed.

Perhaps this Easter we can be more mindful of where our Easter and other eggs come from. To me, this is part of believing in God who made and redeemed this earth, including the chickens. Perhaps you will decide more carefully what kinds of eggs you buy. Perhaps you will write to your councillor about the silly chicken bylaw. Or perhaps you will even engage in an act of civil disobedience and make a home for a few chickens in your back yard.

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