By ERIN HORROCKS-POPE
The UrbanHensTO Pilot Program was launched on March 2, 2018. Extended in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the project is now slated to end on March 31, 2022.
Through the program, eligible households within Toronto Wards 2, 3, 4, 8, 12, 14 (Toronto-Danforth), and 19 (Beaches-East York) were permitted to keep up to four hens for the purposes of egg production and enjoyment of a unique pet experience.
Beaches-East York Councillor Brad Bradford said he believes the experience for locals has been a positive one.
“I’ve heard some great feedback from local residents on the experience with the program,” said Bradford. “From the benefits of having fresh eggs right from the backyard, to being able to neighbours and children taking an interest in seeing where their food comes from.”
Bradford said in urban centres such as Toronto, it’s important for residents to have opportunities to connect with food production. He is hopeful the final report, expected to be released at the city’s Economic and Community Development Committee meeting in March, will illustrate the impact and success of the program in addition to sharing its future.
“I believe this is something the city can lead on,” he said. “But the approach needs to be grounded in research and like all programs, executed in a way that’s also sustainable and practical.”
Beach resident Marea Taylor shares the councillor’s hopes that the UrbanHensTO project will have a future in the city.
Taylor and her family registered with the program in May 2020 and brought four hens home through Rent the Chicken, an organization that works with households to support backyard chickens.
Rent the Chicken provides renters like Taylor with up to four egg-laying hens, a portable chicken coop, food, and instructions on how to best take care of the animals.
Taylor and her family quickly fell in love with their hens and started Beach Hobby Farm in their yard on Hubbard Boulevard where people can visit the hens, as well as bunnies and rescued pigeons.
Beach Hobby Farm has become a favourite spot for locals of all ages and backgrounds to visit, but Taylor is concerned about what will happen to her chickens if the UrbanHensTO program isn’t extended or made a permanent option for residents.
“It would be very sad for people to have to get rid of their chickens,” Taylor said. “Even if the chickens [already placed] were grandfathered in, it would be heartbreaking to know you only have them for as long as they live. Maybe we won’t get to have more chickens… it’s the not-knowing right now that’s frustrating.”
Taylor is hopeful the program will be made permanent and expanded to allow more residents to take part, commenting that keeping hens around households is a common practice around the world.
She said there are many benefits to the program including the collection of fresh eggs, the emotional bonds formed with the chickens, and educational value.
“A lot of people don’t really realize that their eggs are coming from chickens just like these ones,” said Taylor. “For so many city people there’s a disconnect of where there their food is coming from. And seeing people make that connection is kind of magical.”
To fill out the city survey on the UrbanHensTO Pilot Program, please go to https://s.cotsurvey.chkmkt.com/?e=256479&h=5AA0A1E29664152&l=en
The deadline to fill out the survey is Feb. 11, 2022.
To learn more about Beach Hobby Farm, please email Taylor at email@example.com