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Chicken, duck & dwarf goat ordinance approved: Boost for urban homesteading, advocate says

Last night, Denver City Council approved a zoning code change to allow chickens, ducks and dwarf goats to be kept at city residences, and Sundari Elizabeth Kraft, the organizer of Sustainable Food Denver and author of the just-published book The Complete Idiot's Guide to Urban Homesteading couldn't be happier.

"Big kudos to city council," Kraft says. "They really listened."

At a meeting last week, folks speaking in favor of the change outnumbered opponents by a count of 49-4 -- something Kraft says even councilmembers against the notion acknowledged. In the end, the ordinance passed 7-3

The new rule doesn't mean homeowners have no restrictions when it comes to introducing an element of farm living to city environs.

"We still have a process in place for certain kinds of animals," Kraft points out. "But we've carved out a small subset of animals -- up to eight female chickens or ducks and up to two dwarf dairy goats. They must be dwarf, and no billy goats, which smell terrible. And that little subset of animals now has a new process that involves additional guidelines in terms of coop placement on your lot and distance from a neighbor's dwelling, among other things. And these guidelines didn't exist before, so we've added protections for neighbors and the animals themselves."

Just as important, Kraft continues, "we've taken away the bureaucracy and expense, streamlining the process so that now people only need a simple animal-control license -- a one-time license that costs $20."

Under the old system, she points out, "only twelve permits had been issued in the City of Denver for chickens and dwarf goats, because the process was so complicated and expensive. Many people said, 'That's crazy. I'm not doing that. But if you simplify the process, I'd prefer to be legal.' And now, animal control will have a much better idea who has these animals in the city, which is a better thing for everyone -- because these animals will no longer be kept in the shadows."

Of course, there's much more to urban homesteading that chickens, ducks and dwarf goats, as readers of Kraft's Complete Idiot's Guide will discover.

"We worked to make the book really comprehensive," she says. "Urban homesteading is anything you can do to live more self-sufficiently and more self-sustainingly. So there's information about growing on your own land, growing on someone else's land in land-share agreements, chickens, dwarf goats, rabbits, bees and aquaponics, which is fish and plants together. And there are also sections about everything from canning to cheese-making to making your own cleaning products."

On top of that, Kraft devoted an entire chapter to zoning. "One of the things about urban homesteading that gets neglected is, it doesn't do any good to teach people how to live more self-sustainingly if they're not allowed to do it -- which is the case for a lot of people. So the book will help you understand your city's zoning regulations and how to potentially work to change them."

Kraft came up with ten steps toward accomplishing this goal -- and while she was only at about step seven in Denver when she wrote the chapter, the council's action last night proves the methodology works. Still, she's quick to give credit to the urban homesteading community as a whole.

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"There are so many reasons why people would want a sustainable food initiative," she allows, "whether it's for cheaper food, more ethically raised food, healthier food. And people came together and voiced their opinions to the council. They were very articulate and respectful, and thankfully, the city council was respectful as well -- even if this may have seemed strange to them at first."

Look below to see a short video provided by Kraft; it shows how chickens and dwarf goats can coexist in your very own backyard.

More from our Urbavore's Dilemma archive: "Urbavore's Dilemma: Introducing Heirloom Gardens, your friendly neighborhood farm."

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