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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 chicken, 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.

Phil Hoza April 30, 2012 at 01:44 PM
We had chickens in our backyard in Wilmette (Washington and 17th Street) when I was young (1950's). It was great to wake up with them crowing at 5am in the morning. It was during the summer and I don't know what the neighbors thought, but they were loud. The chickens were just in a pen made with old window screens and they didn't lay any eggs. I believe they died, excaped or were returned, anyway they were gone by the fall. Difficult to have in the winter without a heated large chicken coop. Now when I am driving in farm country and drive by a farm with pigs, I know it a block before and after because pigs really smell bad... Enjoy the discussion; Phil Hoza
Margaret Lamason April 30, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Good for you Zan Fisher! My niece and nephew have them in Winnetka and it has been a great learning experience for all of us. My brother and sister-in-law built a nice little house for them and somehow the neighbors co-exist and, daresay enjoy them. Plus we all enjoy the eggs. (Unfortunately, the first round of them were prey for the neighborhood fox but hopefully the new "family" will avoid that tragic end).
Carrie Porter April 30, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and observations on the subject. Anyone have any other experiences with backyard chickens? When I lived in Northern Ireland, a lot of people kept chickens for eggs. They also did the same with duck eggs, which were much larger in size and rather rich in taste. I loved the convenience and "local" nuance.
Jeff Cogelja October 04, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Great video, Zan. I live in LaGrange and am trying to get our village to change the ordinance also. I went to the board April 9, and was told by some of the trustees that backyard chickens aren't the image we want for LaGrange. I love that the north shore burbs allow them, and yet it isn't the image we want for LaGrange. Please! Anyway, I am going back to the village next week, and I have a meeting with the village president this week. I would like to show your video, if I need to, if you don't mind. Good Luck. Jeff Cogelja

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