Allowing limited amount of poultry and other birds for sale on the agenda at the next Planning and Zoning Commission Meeting; Benefiting small CSA and on-site market farmers and their customers.

Monday, October 12, 2015 at 5:30 PM
Johnson County Administration Building, Board Room
913 S. Dubuque St. Iowa City, IA

At our last Johnson County Food Policy Council meeting it was announced that one of our recommendations regarding poultry is on the agenda of the next Planning & Zoning Committee meeting, set for this Monday, Oct. 12.

The proposed ordinance basically allows for landowners to keep poultry, including chickens, turkey, squab, ducks, and other small birds for personal use and commercial use, plus, consistent with state and federal regulations, up to 999 birds may be harvested and sold to household consumers annually.

Why should the P&Z and the Board of Supervisors approve this proposed ordinance? 

First, processing of 999 birds annually for sale to farm customers is allowed by state and federal law. Johnson County’s Unified Development Ordinance has language that does not allow a landowner in A- zoned land (A= Agriculture) to include poultry as a farm product to their CSA and other farm customers. This proposed ordinance will fix that discrepancy. Farmers living outside of Johnson County are able to offer poultry to their customers, why not farmers in Johnson County?

With the passage of this proposed ordinance, farmers in Johnson County will be able to further add to their income streams and diversify the products they offer to their customers. This is what rural economic development looks like! 

With the passage of this proposed ordinance, residents of Johnson County will be able to further “Know their Farmer, Know their Food”. Buying chicken at the grocery store or a restaurant does not typically allow for those who eat the food to have a connection with the farmer who raised the chickens and to learn (& see!) how that chicken was raised. This ordinance will create this connection between farmers in Johnson County and their customers, thus further strengthening our community food system.

Another reason this proposed ordinance is important is food safety. First off, the chance of a food safety issue occurring with a small farm is very low partially due to the small size of the operation (birds are from a single farm, not multiple) and the less mechanical automation of the production. You can see from USDA’s latest list of food related recalls here many of the recalls are related to how the poultry is processed (metal from the automation of the packaging, plastic in the chicken breasts, etc.) and include companies that take a raw chicken and further process it into other food products (chicken nuggets, etc.) or companies that take birds from multiple farms and process them in a large facility. This ordinance does not allow for the further processing of poultry with added food products or the addition of birds from other farmers to be processed together. It is just the chicken raised by your local farmer, ready to cook and eat or store in a freezer for another day.

In addition, if the worst happens and you get sick from a chicken bought from a local farmer, a rare event, chances are you will know the name of the person responsible and that person will be able to warn everyone who purchased from them in a timely manner, therefore limiting the number of people exposed. When this happens to someone who ate a chicken bought from a grocery store, chances are, you don’t know the name of the person responsible and can only turn to contacting the company and filing a complaint with the USDA. Between the time of first contact with the company regarding the issue and the time it is investigated, thousands of other people could get sick. Plus, you can’t always rely on the media to cover food related recalls. Large amounts of food recalled makes news, but most of the listed recalls are for small amounts of food, not always enough to generate media attention.

On a related note, if you are cooking chicken at home, please be aware of food safety procedures for handling, preparing and cooking poultry.

Beef is no longer what’s for dinner. Chicken is the number one type of meat consumed in the United States. This ordinance allows small farmers in Johnson County to do what other farmers are allowed to do in their state and county- add a limited amount of locally grown poultry for sale to their farm customers.

Also, in case it isn’t clear, staff from the Johnson County Planning, Development and Sustainability Department (formally Planning and Zoning) is recommending APPROVAL of this ordinance.

Consider attending the meeting this Monday or contact the members of the Johnson County Planning & Zoning Commission and the Board of Supervisors to let them know you support this ordinance.

Michelle Kenyon
Chair, Johnson County Food Policy Council
Program Director, Field to Family