What started out as a school project is now turning into civic action for New Trier High School 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.
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, requested the board exempt chickens from the village’s proposed amendment to its animal ordinance, which prohibits livestock, such as chicken, along with exotic animals. Despite Schaffner’s plea, the board approved the amended ordinance at a May 2011 meeting.
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 Going Green Matters 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.”
- Village Approves New Animal Ordinance Despite Cat, Chicken Concerns
- Trustees Consider Backyard Livestock Concerns In Animal Ordinance
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.