Surrey considers changes to backyard beekeeping and chicken farming

Want chickens or bees on your property? The city is looking at changes to both bylaws in light of input from local farmers.

The City of Surrey is considering changes to some of its urban farming policies.

SURREY — Want to raise chickens or bees on your property?

While both are already allowed in Surrey, the city is looking at changes to both bylaws in light of input from local farmers.

There were lengthy discussions on potential changes to urban beekeeping and backyard poultry farming at a March agricultural committee meeting.

“It’s about local sustainable farming and having less of a carbon footprint – not having to go to the store to get your eggs and honey,” said Coun. Mike Starchuck, chair of the city’s Agricultural and Food Safety Advisory Committee, pictured. “People want to get back to the future – back to nature – to the way we used to do things, the way our parents and grandparents used to do things.”

But changes to bylaws that regulate urban farming need to be done with caution, said Starchuk.

The city’s beekeeping bylaw dates back to the 70s and some want to see it changed to allow hives on smaller properties, from 10,000 square feet to about half of that.

“It’s difficult to say yes let’s just go ahead and allow it because we don’t have best practices right now,” said Starchuk, noting there’s a UBC study underway exploring different lot sizes for beekeeping.

That report, expected to be released at the end of April, will likely influence Surrey’s decision.

“My concern was over the fact that if you put this hive in this backyard, and if you were looking to buy a house in this neighbourhood, should I be concerned if my son was going to have an anaphylactic shock due to a bee sting? Could a family enjoy their backyard knowing there’s a beehive next door?”

Starchuk also expressed concerns about whether it would be necessary to keep track of where the hives are.

“Obviously bee producers are saying, ‘I’ve never heard of anybody being stung because they’re next to a hive.’ But you also have to be thinking in the back of your mind, ‘Am I going to approve a bylaw that will make somebody unable to join their backyard to the fear of being stung?'” questioned Starchuk. “We really have to take a look at when we have these small lots, does that become an issue with beekeeping?”

Starchuk said those in the industry have indicated there are about 400 beekeepers in Surrey.

“It’s not a large population that’s out there, but it’s growing,” he noted.

Meanwhile, the city may also be looking at changes to its backyard chicken program.

The City of Surrey believes there’s about 34 “urban chicken farms” right now, said Starchuk.

Local poultry farmers have expressed concern over the potential for infections, such as avian flu, to spread.

“They’re not against backyard chickens, they just want to make sure we know where they are should there eve an outbreak,” said Starchuk of the chicken farmers’ concerns about urban operations. “You need to keep track of all the other chickens because it’s an airborne disease.”

The city will also be requiring such operations to register for a provincial identification.

At last week’s meeting the agricultural committee endorsed a motion that would see four chickens allowed on properties under an acre, and 12 on lots over an acre.

“I always bow down to the experts,” said Starchuk, chuckling. “And according to them, if you have four chickens that are on your property, they’ll produce 20 eggs per week. So when you’re thinking about what they can provide a family, that takes care of everything.”

The city hasn’t been processing new applications, according to Starchuk, because the program is “kind of in limbo.”

“So we kind of shut the door on the new people for now,” he added, until the new rules are finalized.

Though proceeding cautiously on changes, Starchuk emphasized he wants to support urban farming any way he can.

“It just tastes so good, you know where it’s coming from, and it’s a growing group of people…. There’s the benefits of having your own personal supply and it helps out the environment,” said Starchuk. “I’ve become a little bit of a foodie, so I use honey now more than I ever have before. Quite frankly when I take a look at the new technology that’s out there – the flo-Hive – I thought well, I could definitely put that in my backyard.”

Surrey is in the midst of finalizing its Sustainability Charter 2.0, noted Starchuk, and he said agricultural values are “cemented” into it.

“That, to me, is telling the rest of the world that our sustainability charter recognizes agriculture as begin one of the key components of our charter. Whether it’s preserving the agricultural land we have, or residents having varied and healthy diet options out of food from out own city… it’s an integral part of our local economy,” said Starchuk.

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