Councilor pushes for more urban agriculture 

Staring at goats

When asked a few months ago about her priorities this year, City Councilor Jill Gaebler cited food security — including allowing hoofed stock within Colorado Springs. Now Gaebler is moving ahead with her plans, seeking to change laws to accommodate citified farmers.

And the freshman councilor doesn't want to stop there. Later this year, she wants to establish a "food policy commission," whose mission would include empowering residents to grow or source their own food, including eggs, milk and honey. She's also looking into a community greenhouse built on park land that provides veggies to nonprofits and the homeless, an idea that's still gelling, she says.

"Colorado Springs only produces 4 percent of its food locally and in the surrounding area," she says in an interview. Should all means of freight transportation concurrently fail, "In three to four days, we would be without perishables."

Low impact

Goats, notes Monycka Snowbird, are animals that keep on giving. Of the two at her west-side home, she says, each "gives one to two quarts of milk a day, and I pay $20 to $25 a month to feed them." She adds that their poop, which she insists doesn't smell bad, is great for composting: "People will pay you for it."

But Snowbird is in violation of a city ordinance that allows a maximum of four hoofed stock but requires they be kept on properties at least 37,000 square feet, or about 4/5 of an acre. Snowbird's property is less than 7,000 square feet.

Neighbors have never complained about her goats' bleating or the odor, she says, which she points to as evidence that goats are compatible with urban neighborhoods.

Snowbird, who's active in the urban homesteading movement locally, couldn't estimate how many goats live within the city limits, saying, "I think it's 'Don't ask, don't tell.' Unless someone complains to city zoning, it's not really an issue." Says Gretchen Pressley, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region: "We actually don't get many complaints at all about chickens and goats."

In Denver, a 2011 ordinance allowed residents to keep up to eight egg-laying chickens and ducks and two female dwarf goats for a $25, one-time license issued by the Denver Animal Shelter. Since then, 536 licenses have been issued, says Lt. Aaron McSpadden with Denver Animal Care and Control.

"When they passed the ordinance, people thought, 'Oh my gosh, these things are going to be running amok,'" McSpadden says. "We have seen very little of that." Fewer than five complaints a year have arisen due to chickens and ducks, he says, and only one goat complaint has been received — when a goat wandered from home and bit someone.

Gaebler notes that Springs residents may keep four cats and four dogs, with no weight limit and no requirement for fencing. "It just says they should be under your control at all times," she says. "Goats should be treated the same way."

Even if the law was changed, many neighborhoods wouldn't suddenly become urban farms due to homeowner association covenants that bar such animals, Gaebler says. While it's hard to predict what type of opposition might materialize, controversy elsewhere has arisen about animal welfare, noise, visual nuisance and backyard slaughter, according to the Center for American Progress.

'In the blood'

Nikolai Woolf and his wife, Brandi, occupy a 7,200-square-foot lot near Old Colorado City that they call Folkways Farm. It houses two goats, several chickens, a greenhouse and bees. They've never had a neighbor complain, they say — but then, at least four neighbors also own goats, and many more keep fowl. "There's chickens all over," Nikolai says.

An investigative analyst who works from home, Woolf, 37, says urban farming takes effort, but pays off. "As I was cleaning out the goat pen, taking out their straw and putting it in the compost pile," he says, "it's work, but that's next year's garden right there. It's good for the vegetables. It's hard work, but it's the kind of work that directly benefits your life."

Their time is rewarded, he says, with plenty of milk that his wife turns into cheese, four eggs a day, and plants in their greenhouse that are starting to sprout.

The Woolfs are so smitten that they plan to buy a bigger property north of Montrose in the next year. "My grandpa was a farmer in Nebraska, so it's in the blood," he says.

For those sticking around, Gaebler has gathered interested citizens to help research formation of a Council-appointed food policy panel. It's likely to be similar to others nationwide, including Denver's Sustainable Food Policy Council, whose goal is to have 20 percent of Denver's food locally produced by 2020.

Gaebler doesn't have specific percentage goals in mind, but she is pondering several projects, among them advocating for a public market to interrupt what she calls downtown's "food desert," and changes in homeowner association covenants to allow gardens in yards. The latter isn't under the direct purview of Council, so she knows it will be a challenge.

"It's the many local HOA covenants that deny homeowners this right to their property," she says via email. "So my hope is that we can slowly change hearts and minds as residents begin to understand the importance of food sustainability and security."

Council is to be briefed on Gaebler's efforts April 7; a food council is expected to be formed this summer.


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