COVID-19 has impacted practically every aspect of daily life in Canada. The way we engage with the world around us has been drastically altered, and as the pandemic highlights more and more cracks in our system, many of us are left searching for security (Gardner, 2020).
Our food systems have been under particular scrutiny recently, with workers’ and environmental rights at the forefront of public concerns (Harris, 2020). But with instability in Canada’s food system comes instability in the grocery store (Kennedy, 2020), and many farmers have lowered production levels to manage pandemic-related pressures on the food processing and packaging sectors (Edmiston, 2020). Because of this, many Canadians have taken matters into their own hands. While some have turned to vegetable gardens, others have looked to egg production, and urban backyard chicken numbers have soared to a record high (Duke, 2020).
This trend has actually been seen before. During the world wars, many Torontonians sought out food security in the form of ‘victory gardens,’ using outdoor space around their homes and in other parts of the city to grow food for their families (Chiasson, 2020). Is the rise of the backyard chicken in Canada an offshoot of the victory garden phenomenon? Well, yes and no. While the pandemic has prompted an onslaught of panic-buying, leaving some Canadian grocery stores momentarily egg-free, keeping chickens is not always more cost-effective when compared to buying eggs from the grocery store (The Hustle, 2020). Still, panic-buying has extended to the purchase and rental of chickens, coops, fencing, and feed (Balough, 2020; Chappell, 2020). The chicken-keeping frenzy, therefore, might be as much about finding emotional and social stability in an isolating time as it is about insulating against food insecurity, now and in the future.
For many Canadian families, urban chicken farming is a way to diversify their time spent at home, by teaching themselves and their children a new skill (Tunney, 2020), and welcoming new companion animals into their lives (The Hustle, 2020). Many believe that this transition should be a permanent one, and that closed-loop and localized agricultural systems, in which dependence on external resources is significantly decreased, and waste is minimal, could be the answer to many of our food system concerns (Klassen, 2020). While no single answer to issues regarding sustainability in agriculture exists, small-scale farming could certainly be part of the solution (Driscoll, 2012). Backyard chickens might be part of that equation. While urban chicken farming and purchasing eggs each come with their own costs and benefits, clearly, Canadians aren’t content with agricultural business as usual, at least for the time being.
Will the backyard chicken frenzy meet the same end as the victory gardens of the world wars? To answer that question, we will need to wait and see if the COVID-19 pandemic will prompt permanent systemic change in our food systems and beyond. That remains to be seen, but for now, Canada’s urban chicken population appears to be here to stay.
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