The eggs have it (Guest Post: Shauna Struby)

Shauna Lawyer Struby is the co-founder of Transition OKC, a catalyst for healthier, more resilient and sustainable communities. She lives in Oklahoma City with her family and two remarkably affable cats. 

Photo by mazaletel used under a Creative Commons License.
Photo by mazaletel used under a Creative Commons License.

After decades of relative obscurity, urban agricultural practices that help citizens become more self-sufficient and resilient, such as vegetable gardening, mini-orchards, composting, rainwater harvesting and keeping a few hens for fresh eggs, have plowed their way back into the mainstream. Advocates for urban agriculture note that updated ordinances provide cities and their citizens numerous health, economic, ecological and social benefits.

On December 31, the Oklahoma City Council will vote on whether to adopt updated ordinances related to urban agriculture. The ordinances, which were crafted by OKC Planning Department with input from the public, were unanimously passed by the Oklahoma City Planning Commission.

For lower income populations, the updated ordinances are particularly critical. According to the U.S. Census, in Oklahoma City 17.1 percent of the population lives below the poverty level. Furthermore, while the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) and nonprofits such as the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma provide much needed temporary supplemental help, they are not meant to be long-term solutions to hunger and poverty.

Dan West, founder of Heifer International, used to say, “Not a cup of milk, but a cow,” to illustrate the need for providing people with the tools to overcome hunger and poverty, and hence build their own resiliency. Urban ag ordinances provide some of those tools. Urban gardeners can make use of front and back yards to grow some or all of their own food, and urban farmers and entrepreneurs can start businesses growing food for consumers, restaurants or schools, thereby supporting themselves, possibly creating jobs for others, and building local economic resiliency.

“The ordinances will reduce the barriers and cost of urban farming development, allowing small businesses to make a profit on farming,” says Bud Scott, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance. “Urban farms are very beneficial for low-income neighborhoods: the farms provide job training and career skills for at-risk youth, they teach kids about healthy food, they provide a positive after-school atmosphere, and become de-facto community centers.”

Planting seeds for health

Free-range eggs — which are far more nutritious than supermarket eggs – and fresh fruits and vegetables are just a drop in the basket of the potential health benefits of urban ag. Since it’s no secret that Oklahoma and Oklahoma City rank near the bottom of almost every health indicator, including fitness and fruit and vegetable consumption, the possible implementation of the ordinances is fortuitous.

The severity of Oklahoma City’s health crisis, and the potential of urban agriculture ordinances to help fight obesity and hunger epidemics, explains why Wellness Now is urging the City Council to pass the ordinances. Wellness Now is a community-led coalition of nearly 200 organizations, schools, nonprofits, and companies who share a vision to improve the health and wellness of Oklahoma City and County. The coalition’s leadership team recently endorsed Oklahoma City’s proposed urban ag ordinances by a vote of 16 to 1, adding their considerable weight to public endorsements from other nonprofits and businesses, including Slow Food OKC, the Oklahoma Farm and Food Alliance, and the Oklahoma Sustainability Network.

With such widespread support, passage of the urban ag ordinances might seem a given. Yet a group of opponents are expressing concerns about chicken waste and noise. These concerns are addressed in the ordinances, which require adequate space for up to six hens, outlaw roosters (the loudmouths of the species), and give homeowner associations the flexibility to further govern the ordinances. Urban ag advocates are hoping such concerns will be laid to rest prior to the vote on Dec. 31.

Citizen input and support is vital in ensuring positive progress toward health and decreasing poverty, and although the ordinances pertain only to Oklahoma City, other municipalities are more likely to follow suit if our state’s capital city leads the way.

The opinions stated above are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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The opinions stated in guest articles are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.

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