local food forum illustrates rising interest in urban livestock

A packed house at Monday night's Local Food Cleveland meeting on raising backyard livestock demonstrated growing interest in raising chickens, bees and other animals in urban neighborhoods across Northeast Ohio.

When audience members at the Great Lakes Brewing Company's Tasting Room in Ohio City were asked by event organizer Peter McDermott if they currently were raising backyard livestock or were planning on it, approximately two-thirds raised their hands.

Two years ago, Cleveland City Council passed progressive "chicks and bees" legislation that allowed city residents to raise and keep certain farm animals and bees. Other municipalities in Northeast Ohio also allow residents to keep backyard livestock. Presenters urged audience members to consult their local zoning code and contact their local zoning officials with questions.

The majority of livestock owners in Cleveland tend chickens (not roosters) for eggs or bees for honey, said McDermott, a Network Weaver with Entrepreneurs for Sustainability (E4S). While raising goats, pigs and other animals is also permitted in some places, those animals typically require more land than is available on urban lots.

Despite the growing interest in urban farming and backyard livestock in U.S. cities, many municipalities lag behind. Some zoning codes prohibit or strictly limit keeping chickens, bees and other animals, while others do not address the issue. Presenters urged audience members to educate themselves -- in many Northeast Ohio communities, despite assumptions to the contrary, raising chickens and bees is permitted in some form.

McDermott cited a plethora of benefits to keeping backyard livestock, including saving money on groceries, providing healthy, locally produced foods to residents, and income generation for owners who sell eggs and other products to neighbors or through local markets.

As the local foods movement in Northeast Ohio continues to expand, McDermott challenged audience members to consciously support the infrastructure needed to sustain it, including educating wary public officials at the state and local level. 

"Studies show that local food is potentially a $15 billion economy in Northeast Ohio, and in recent years, we've seen a fifteen- to twenty-percent increase per year in local farmers' markets," said McDermott. "The question is, can the market for local foods support continued expansion? Our group is interested in accelerating the progress."

Source: Peter McDermott
Writer: Lee Chilcote