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The Birds & The Bees

by Anna Yule

When you think of Edmonton, your thoughts do not automatically associate it with eco-city or environmental city. Most of the time our city has been pegged as the capital of the oil boom and home to the trades, but hardly the garden city. This, however, has been changing little by little. The City of Edmonton has been rolling out smart eco-initiatives such as their composting program, city farmer markets, edible forests and the urban beekeeping and backyard chicken initiatives.

Our city has been integrating some sweet delights and earthy culture into our everyday. If you have ever wanted the rural thrill with the urban feel, the time has never been better. With the new bylaw passed by City Council in 2015 for backyard beekeeping and a Pilot project for backyard chickens started in 2014, you can now be an urban beekeeper or even entertain a few chickens (3 to 6 per household to be exact). I had the pleasure of the perspective of one involved-Edmontonian’s take on the benefits, work, and community reaction of having both.

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Jocelyn joined the River City Chickens collective 7 years ago and learned about the practicalities of raising backyard chickens. She stated that “…when city council finally approved a pilot project in 2014 [she] signed up right away.” She acquired the license for keeping the chickens, a development permit for the coop and has taken a course in urban hen raising which is a city requirement “…to ensure that owners understand the challenges associated with urban coops…particularly in our Northern climate.”

Along with her proclivity for keeping urban chickens she is also part of the urban beekeeping initiative. She says that her “interests in gardening and urban agriculture have grown and [that] keeping bees is an extension of that.” After attending a “seedy Sunday” talk about honey bees, she was fascinated and signed up for a beekeeping course which ultimately led to her first hive a year later.

When I inquired about the reaction of the community to these pilot projects, she said that “everyone has been very positive” and that “now the neighbours’ kids like to visit and feed the hens.” She says that they have “helped build a sense of community”, and that “[t]he hens are quiet and don’t smell [which are common misconceptions] and the bees will fly up to 5km to forage.”

Jocelyn also shared her thoughts on whether she would recommend this initiatives to others. “Like any pet, hens and bees are a commitment and a responsibility. The amount of work involved isn’t too arduous but there are unique challenges, especially in the winter, that make these animals not suitable for everyone. Taking a chicken- or bee- keeping course that is specific to our climate and urban setting will enable you to decide if these pets are right for you.”

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Having these creatures in your backyard also does a lot for Edmonton’s biodiversity and insect control. Having more honey bees helps to improve pollination in neighbourhoods and increases the biodiversity of our agriculture, while backyard chickens help reduce backyard pests and also provide fresh local eggs to the table.

The process for getting backyard bees or chickens includes applying for a license from the city along with a couple of other requirements. All of these requirements can be found on the City of Edmonton website under Initiatives and Innovations. These are just two of a long list of eco-friendly, sustainable initiatives put together by your own city of Edmonton.

Photography courtesy of Jocelyn Manning Fox.

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