Urban Farmers Fight To Keep Livestock In Long Beach
It's one of the few urban ranches in Long Beach. They provide area youth with a place to learn about farm life, and rent space out so residents can keep barnyard animals in the city.
But Shoestring City Ranch isn't alone in its aspiration to keep livestock in Long Beach. Many other urban farmers want to join in.
An extension of the organic food movement, urban farming involves growing and selling food within the confines of a city.
“Anybody that wants to get close to their food source and eat organically should consider urban farming,” said Dr. Donna Marykwas, a former microbiology professor at California State University Long Beach and executive director of the community garden Long Beach Grows.
The movement is steadily growing, with roughly 10 community gardens established and recognized by the city council in the last couple of years.
“And there are a lot more community gardens than those 10,” Vice Mayor Suja Lowenthal said. “I have neighbors who are part of a large urban farming effort in Rose Park. They’ve collected thousands of signatures in support of it.”
Community gardens are where residents can rent a small lot of land in a city to grow everything from kale to peaches. Many of the new community gardens, like Shoestring City Ranch, want to keep livestock's well.
But that particular dream has been stifled by Long Beach’s current laws.
“We’re trying to change the code,” Marykwas said. “So people can have poultry without all the setbacks and restrictions that the code currently has, and also small livestock like goats for their milk.
A resident of Long Beach can only keep one hen if they can provide 20 feet of distance from their neighbors. But each chicken only lays one egg every 24 hours.
“The point is to have these not as pets but for food," Marykwas said. "One egg doesn’t feed my family."
The hopeful farmers can also have one goat if they keep it north of Anaheim Street, a less populated area, but Marykwas said this can create a noise issue.
“One goat is a lonely goat,” she explained, “and goats are much more likely to vocalize and be rowdy if they are alone.”
Despite these pitfalls, Marykwas has still tried to keep both chickens and goats for the sake of her family's health.
According to Marykwas, chickens raised on commercial farms eat only corn feed, but the birds are omnivores and should be eating bugs as well. By allowing her chickens to eat bugs, Marykwas says their eggs have more nutritional value.
By keeping her own goats, she can ensure the milk she collects contains no harmful hormones or additives.
But her neighbors weren't thrilled with her new animal venture. They soon reported her to Animal Control. Marykwas was fined $2,600 and forced to give up her animals.
“Somebody finked on us,” she said. “You know, we had neighbors that were confirmed drug dealers. They were never busted for anything and we got busted for goats and chickens.”
Marykwas said she was following Long Beach’s chicken laws. Animal Control would not comment on her exact violations.
Others may come up agains the same issues. Another community garden at the corner of First and Elm Streets in downtown Long Beach is also interested in keeping chickens.
The garden is owned by Jimmy Brasher, who honed his agricultural skills while growing up on a farm in Iowa. Brasher uses natural techniques instead of chemicals to keep unwanted pests off the garden’s fruits and vegetables.
He said he thinks keeping goats in the garden would be problematic because of their urban location, but said poultry could help maintain his pesticide free garden without disturbing too many of his neighbors.
“A great benefit of poultry is that they can clean the weeds and the insects by eating them and then fertilize the ground,” Brasher said. “It’s a win-win situation with chickens in your yard.”
With those benefits in mind, Marykwas and seven other urban farmers went to Long Beach City Council two months ago demanding a change in the ordinance.
The farmers made a number of suggestions to edit the laws, including getting rid of the Anaheim boundary line and allowing residents to keep beehives.
“We want to emulate the success stories of other cities like San Francisco, Seattle, and San Diego rather then reinvent a failing wheel,” Marykwas said.
In San Francisco, residents can have two female goats of any size and roosters and hens as long as they keep that same 20-foot buffer already mandated in Long Beach.
Seattle residents can have only pygmy goats with no zoning restrictions, but male goats must be dehorned and neutered. Owners of pygmy goats must also pay $30 for a license, similar to those required for cats and dogs.
Roosters are banned for San Diego residents, but urban farmers are allowed to keep hens and two dehorned pygmy goats.
Since the meeting, Long Beach City Council members have begun to research the exact laws of these other cities. But Councilman Patrick O’Donnell said he was skeptical about changing the laws.
“I want to know what kinds of sounds goats make at 2 a.m. in the morning,” he said. “The reason I ask that question is… I want to know how these animals might potentially impact our quality of life.”
The general public will soon have the opportunity to review a new plan for livestock laws. The proposal will be altered based on the public’s reaction and sent to City Council for further consideration. The potential ordinance will then go through another round of editing between the Council and the public before finally coming to a vote.
According to Vice Mayor Lowenthal this process could happen quickly—an ordinance could be passed within a couple of months—but it may not be as lenient as the urban farmers hope.
“We’re not going to look exactly like some of the cities that individuals want us to,” she said. “But that’s not our goal…. We want to find a way to strike balance between allowing certain forms of urban agriculture to take place in a way that doesn’t interfere with someone else’s way of life.”
Reach Contributor Tiara Chiaramonte here.