Chicago goat farm bucks new regulations

Illinois Environmental Council joins fight against ordinance that would ‘jeopardize urban agriculture’

A class of goat yoga takes place at GlennArt Farm on Chicago’s West Side. (GlennArt Farm)

A class of goat yoga takes place at GlennArt Farm on Chicago’s West Side. (GlennArt Farm)

By Ted Cox

Chicago’s Latin motto dating back to the 1830s is “Urbs in horto,” translating as “city in a garden,” but if a city alderman has his way there would be strict new limits on anything within its borders resembling a farm.

Alderman Raymond Lopez, a West Side alderman with a penchant for animal rights, has proposed an ordinance that places strict new regulations on farm animals like pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and roosters; creates a new “urban farm” business license; and sets heavy fines of up to $500 a day per animal for enforcement.

The proposal, however, has drawn flak from grassroots groups like the Illinois Environmental Council and Advocates for Urban Agriculture in defense of individuals and businesses including a thriving West Side goat farm that operates as a dairy, while also offering “goat yoga.”

Carolyn Ioder, co-owner of GlennArt Farm in the city’s Austin neighborhood, told the news site Block Club Chicago that the ordinance, if enacted, “would shut us down.”

Ioder said the business, which began with two does in 2011 and has now grown to offer “raw, unpasteurized goat milk” to a growing clientele, can’t deal with the additional bureaucracy the ordinance would create. “We can’t economically or paperwork-wise manage it,” she told Block Club. “It’s just too much for me to deal with. It’s hard enough meeting the standards of the state health department, it’s hard enough meeting the standards of animal-welfare certification.”

The Illinois Environmental Council and Advocates for Urban Agriculture agree. AUA says the ordinance will “hinder the ability of Chicago residents and urban farmers to grow and raise their own food” by imposing “fees, fines, and unnecessary burdensome regulations.”

The grassroots group says, “Existing city of Chicago ordinances already address the potential public-health, nuisance, and animal-welfare concerns related to raising small farmed animals. The ordinance will create unnecessary regulation by banning roosters, capping the total number of fowl at six and other livestock at two, only allowing single-family or two-flat residences to keep livestock, and levying fines up to $500 per day for permit violations — all without consideration for lot size.”

The IEC chimed in on an advocacy website streamlining public comments for aldermen, stating: “Current city ordinances already address public-health concerns related to waste and odor, and nuisance regulations address potential noise complaints that could arise.” It added: “The passage of this ordinance would have a detrimental impact on the well-being of many residents, especially communities that have historically relied on these operations for income and food security.”

Alderman Raymond Lopez has made an issue of animal rights on multiple fronts. (DNAinfo Chicago/Ted Cox)

Alderman Raymond Lopez has made an issue of animal rights on multiple fronts. (DNAinfo Chicago/Ted Cox)

Lopez told Block Club his ordinance, co-sponsored by Northwest Side Alderman Anthony Napolitano, “gives communities a voice and a vehicle to make their own collective decisions.” He cited the recent “rescue” of 114 chickens kept illegally in an Englewood garage on the city’s South Side. Lopez, who owned eight dogs when he was elected alderman in 2015, has clashed with the city’s Animal Care and Control agency multiple times, and has also fought to ban horse-drawn carriages.

Critics, however, cite how those Englewood chickens were illegal under the city’s standing regulations, and Ioder has pointed out that the Austin neighborhood has a history of urban agriculture. GlennArt Farm sustains that tradition by welcoming visitors including school field trips and vice versa, taking goats to schools for class instruction. She told Block Club: “Many people on the West Side, (the) older generation, lives here and they remember growing up in Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee. And it’s an opportunity for them to bring their grandchildren and great-grandchildren to see our animals and tell stories.”

The ordinance was submitted at last month’s City Council meeting and was assigned to the License Committee. The committee did not take it up ahead of next week’s council meeting, but Lopez has said he hopes to pass it by the end of the year.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration said Wednesday it’s still being negotiated.

“Chicago Animal Care and Control views the ordinance as a starting point for a conversation on this issue,” said department spokeswoman Jenny Schlueter. “We are working closely with Aldermen Lopez, Napolitano, and other stakeholders to identify solutions that address community concerns while being thoughtful about the interests of urban farmers and animal advocates. We look forward to more conversations so we can come to an agreement that everyone can feel good about.”