New Trier Student Wants Backyard Chickens Legalized

New Trier High School junior Zan Fisher recently requested the Village of Wilmette host a hearing on backyard chickens.

What started out as a school project is now turning into civic action for junior Zan Fisher.

The Wilmette resident requested the village host a hearing on backyard chickens during a board meeting on April 24.

“I’m not only representing myself but many, many committed Wilmette residents who believe that the time is right to legalize backyard chickens in Wilmette,” Fisher told the board.

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Village President Chris Canning told Fisher the board would take her request into consideration but pointed out the board addressed the same issue in April 2011.

Last year, local food activist, Diane Schaffner, which prohibits livestock, such as chickens, along with exotic animals. Despite Schaffner’s plea, the board . 

School Project Inspired Civic Action

Fisher started researching backyard chickens as part of her studies at New Trier's Integrated Global Studies School in October 2011. The school provides a  setting for New Trier High School students who are passionate about learning and who wish to help direct the path of their own education, according to the school's website.

“In this school program, it’s a very different kind of school, we focus a lot on the environment and how we can better the world,” she said.

At first, Fisher didn’t know what her project would be about, but then she saw a photo of her younger self with chickens that the family kept when she was growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio.  

“My family knew that chickens were illegal in Wilmette. We want chickens, but my parents never had enough time to help legalize it, so I thought for the project, it would be the perfect time to start that,” Fisher said.

She spent several months researching the topic and the more Fisher learned, the more she was convinced backyard chickens provide both health and environmental benefits.

Fisher says backyard chickens are healthier because people know what they are feeding the chicken and their eggs tend to have more vitamins such as Omega 3 and beta-Carotene. In addition, she says chickens can be fed most food scraps, except meat and dairy.

“Basically what you eat is what your chicken is eating,” she said.

Her research also revealed that factory-farmed chickens are often given antibiotics and only fed corn and grain. The factory process also pollutes the environment, Fisher said.

But it wasn’t the lack of nutrients or pollution of factory-farmed chickens that surprised Fisher during her research.

“The most surprising thing to me was why [backyard chickens] were illegal in Wilmette,” Fisher said. “I looked into that and it looks like people don’t want chickens in a suburban area because they are afraid the chickens are going to smell and be loud.”

Documents Residents with Backyard Chickens

This spring, Fisher decided to make a documentary to show the benefits of having backyard chickens. It was not part of her school project, but she said people are so disconnected from nature and life that it was an important issue she wanted to address.

“Local eating and farming — it’s a huge trend. I want to push for that to catch on. There are so many benefits of local eating that people are not really aware of,” she said. “I’m hooked on the idea of growing your own food in your backyard because it brings you back down to Earth, which is very important, especially here in the North Shore where people sometimes get caught up in this bubble.”

Fisher spent about two weeks interviewing residents with backyard chickens and documented her experience educating people on the benefits of backyard chickens at in March.

“Chicken aren’t just good for you, they are great for education,” Fisher said.  

She recalls her preschool class taking field trips to her house to learn where eggs came from.  

“It’s good to let kids go outside and learn a little about the Earth they live on and what they are eating rather than video games,” she said. “I just think it’s good for people to have something a little outside their comfort zone.”

Watch Fisher’s documentary by clicking on the video above.

The junior at New Trier High School says she plans to continue fighting to legalize backyard chickens even after her school project.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as quick of a process as the end of May, when the project ends,” she said. “I’m not going to just drop it because I do feel passionately about it, and since I’ve already started, why not carry on.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article misquoted local food activist, Diane Schaffner. It's been updated to reflect that Schaffner requested only chickens to be exempt from a proposed animal ordinance amendment.

Diane Schaffner April 30, 2012 at 07:12 PM
Let me clear up a few common misconceptions about keeping chickens. First and foremost, one does not need a rooster to get eggs, only to get baby chicks. Roosters are loud, hens are quiet. Many cities that allow the keeping of hens do not allow roosters. Secondly, chickens do not need a heated coop in the winter. They would certainly not survive the cold or local predators with only window screens for protection, but a small, solid, easily secured structure will suffice. Finally, well kept backyard coop does not smell like a pig farm. Really, there is no comparison at all. And although the above article quotes me as advocating for the keeping of both chickens and pigs in Wilmette, my only interest is in hens and I wholeheartedly agree that the keeping of pigs in suburbia would be a terrible idea!
Chi-an Chang April 30, 2012 at 07:24 PM
Hi Diane, Thanks for the clarification, I've update the article to reflect your view point. Apologies for the mistake. Best, Chi-an
Wes Fisher, MD April 30, 2012 at 10:58 PM
Regarding coyotes and chickens, Evanton looked into this: http://cityofevanston.org/pdf/HSC%20May%203.%202010%20minutes.pdf Link also addresses concerns over rodents, too. Regarding raccoons: coop must bury chicken wire >= to 12 inches below ground. Raccoons are easily kept from chickens. No slaughter needs to take place. :) -Wes Fisher, MD Zan's Dad and former chicken owner in Terrace Park, OH
Chi-an Chang April 30, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Hi Wes, Thanks for sharing your knowledge! Best, Chi-an
Michelle M May 03, 2012 at 11:55 PM
From my very small amount of experience with seeing different types of places, the biggest difference between a pen that smells and a pen that doesn't smell is how it is bedded and cleaned. As long as you use bedding and clean the coop the normal amount, smell can be minimal... at least that is what I have learned about pigs. Chickens smell much less in comparison, and perhaps the comparison is not even valid.


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