What if I gave you a suggestion for something you could do that would nearly eliminate waste of kitchen scraps, cut down on your food bill, reduce the endless mowing and mulching in your yard—all while paying for itself? Welcome to the idea of backyard chickens. The idea is sustainable, ethical, and practical.

This is recycling at its best. You can feed the chickens the bits and pieces of leftover food that you might otherwise be throwing away. It’s easier than composting. You can even freeze stuff for future use and get your friends and neighbors on board to save their scraps, as well as from any group you attend such as church events or club meetings. Besides, chickens eat bugs. You want them there.

If you’re getting your eggs from someone you know then you can have firsthand knowledge of how the animals are treated. Many store bought eggs are produced in factory farms, with unethical treatment of the chickens. Even labels such as cage free, pasture raised, or free range aren’t a guarantee that the birds are allowed to live natural lives.

But if you can see into your neighbor’s backyard, and know that the animals are given free movement and enough space to behave like chickens, then you can feel at ease about consuming the eggs. When hens are treated properly, and given a varied diet of real food then the yolks are a darker color. This indicates a more nutritious egg that is better for you, the consumer.

Eggs are a great source of cheap protein—compare the cost of eggs to that of meat. They’re also suitable for vegetarians since there is no slaughtering involved. Eggs are easy enough to cook that even someone like me can do it. Remember those old ads about the “incredible, edible egg”? Indeed!

On a practical level, why not use your backyard for something other than useless grass? Of course gardens are great for growing edible vegetables or pretty flowers. Why not add chickens and make yourself that much more self-sufficient? Or you could trade your eggs for your tomatoes next door and start a barter system, and become better acquainted with your neighbors thrown in for free.

As far as objections go, I bet the top ones would be noise and smell. I can’t imagine that chickens would be any worse than your neighbors’ dogs. (Or maybe even your neighbors themselves; I don’t know your life.) Some regulation would be essential, as to the number of birds allowed and a requirement to keep the pens cleaned up.

I’m not in favor of getting rid of all regulation for property use but I do think that zoning has become too restrictive, especially in certain neighborhoods. They have no character; everything looks the same. No one is out in their yard unless they’re out taking care of their yard. It’s almost like the space is an outdoor museum—look but don’t touch.

Certainly there need to be certain parameters; I’m not suggesting we allow junkyards or manufacturing in residential areas. But the time has come to let the pendulum swing a bit back toward giving property owners a bit more freedom—within reasonable, clearly defined limits.

At first glance the idea of backyard chickens might seem to be an off-the-wall suggestion. But when viewed in light of the considerations and caveats above I believe it would add to our local community. Let’s contact our elected representatives on the Greenfield City Council to encourage them to take this notion from concept to reality within our city boundaries.