www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-chickens-roost-20130826,0,5953571.story

baltimoresun.com

Baltimore County's poultry agenda

Our view: Change comes to one Maryland county on slow little chicken feet

2:10 PM EDT, August 26, 2013

Advertisement

For those who missed it, the latest news in Towson is that the Baltimore County Council will soon take up legislation to consider whether more people ought to be allowed to keep chickens in their backyards. The bill doesn't actually make a decision on whether this should happen but merely calls for a review of current regulations.

In other words, county leaders are going to have to decide: What comes first, the chickens or the regs?

Sorry about that. But the pun-sensitive may want to stop reading at this point and not get their feathers in a ruffle over what is coming next. That Baltimore County has just noticed the rise of backyard chicken coops and the embrace of locally grown food is symptomatic of a broader trend — and we're not just talking about avian poo.

Mark Twain once observed that when the world comes to an end he wants to be in Cincinnati, because it's always 20 years behind the times. Towson may not quite match Ohio's Queen City for backwardness, but it's not exactly leading the flock on issues of social change either.

Keeping taxes down, cost-cutting and shrinking government whenever possible? That's what Baltimore County does best, perhaps better than anyone else in the Baltimore region. But catching up with 21st century trends and anticipating the future? Hmm, perhaps not so much.

It's one thing that reliably progressive Howard County loosened its zoning requirements to allow more backyard chickens (albeit with an eight-hen limit and no roosters allowed) earlier this summer, but so have local governments from Annapolis to Baltimore City. Even Williams-Sonoma, purveyor of high-end food-related products, is already on top of it, marketing no fewer than 11 varieties of chicken coops, from the basic model ($319.99 on sale) to the "Cedar Chicken Coop and Run With Planter" for $1,499.95.

Chickens may strike traditionalists as out of place in the suburban cul-de-sac with its quarter-acre yards, but Baltimore City residents living in relatively modest lots have been doing this for years. Did nobody notice what was going on across the city-county line?

Turns out, chickens make rather nice pets. They produce fresh eggs — a mere five could lay as many as 20 a week — and they can be raised for meat, too, without fear of drugs, pesticides or other harmful additives. It's isn't all red-eye gravy, of course. They require care (proper bedding as well as food, water and grit among them) and must be treated responsibly. But the pros appear to outweigh the cons, and the nation hasn't yet been subjected to an epidemic of mistreated backyard birds.

Remember when bringing reusable bags to a grocery store seemed like something only flaming liberal environmentalists and hippies did? Now, it's the norm. Solar panels on the roof used to seem a little "out there" as well, but that changed years ago, too. The acceptance of same-sex marriage may have seemed like the major milestone of recent years, but the fact is that the world is evolving — usually in small ways, but inevitably and constantly.

Backyard chickens aren't the most important issue facing Baltimore County, but you have to wonder how prepared Towson is for the rest of the 21st century — at least beyond the issues of employee pensions and use of county-owned vehicles.

Take public education, for instance. It seems only recently that Baltimore County's top leaders discovered that many schools lacked air conditioning, and they embraced an ambitious plan of renovation. As commendable as that was, this was a problem that had been around for decades. Most recently, the county's superintendent announced plans to spend more on classroom technology, yet he also admits that many county teachers don't take advantage of the computers and connectivity they have available now.

When Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz first decided to run for the county's top job, he spoke of the need to put the county closer to the cutting edge. Whatever happened to that hen-pecked fellow? We hope to hear from him on that topic some day soon — at least before those chickened about the future come home to roost.