Carbondale gives hope to man hopping to raise rabbits |

Carbondale gives hope to man hopping to raise rabbits

Matt Kennedy and his daughter Aberdeen hold two of their rabbits in the backyard of their home in Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Carbondale cuniculturist Matt Kennedy believes he has something to celebrate.

The Carbondale board of trustees on Tuesday agreed to look into raising the rabbit limitation at a work session, but it’s unclear when the number might be raised – or by how much.

Kennedy raises rabbits and sells rabbit meat, butchered to USDA specifications, for his family, as well as to supply some local restaurants.

Kennedy’s operation, which currently has 50 live rabbits, clashes with a decades-old town ordinance limiting the number of rabbits allowed on residential properties to three.

After receiving a notice of violation with the town’s code, which he was previously unaware of and is still pending in municipal court, Kennedy asked the trustees to consider raising the limit.

“What we’re trying to do at my house and my farm is, we’re trying to have an urban farm that offers an example of sustainability, and an example of backyard farming to other people,” Kennedy told the trustees.

The backyard farm also has a greenhouse, chickens and a few other fowl.

The hour-long discussion about raising the rabbit limit danced around how to encourage people to raise their own food while not allowing commercial agriculture operations to grow within the town limits.

“Our master plan calls for infill, density in town,” said Carbondale manager Jay Harrington. “We’re not a rural community.”

Neighbors of Kennedy and others said that the potential impacts of a rabbit operation have to be considered.

Russ Criswell, who lives near Kennedy’s place, said he doesn’t oppose sustainable farming, just the rabbit operation in the town.

 “I believe in what Matt is doing, I just don’t believe in him doing it where he’s at,” Criswell said.

Several people spoke in support of Kennedy’s backyard operation. One neighbor of Kennedy’s said she appreciates the chance to show her children how kitchen scraps can be recycled to feed animals, which then provides food for humans later on.

“It’s a real blessing to the kids to see really what happens, and the cycle (of food),” the neighbor said.

But the supporters and opponents of raising the rabbit limit disagreed about the impacts.

Kennedy said he keeps a high number of rabbits – more than he needs – to show people that it’s possible to raise that number of rabbits in a healthy way, without being a nuisance.

Mayor Dan Richardson did not agree that Kennedy’s operation had zero impacts.

“I’ve heard from multiple people about the impacts,” Richardson said.

The town’s chicken and poultry rules could hold the key to compromise between the three-rabbit limit and allowing full-scale agricultural farms in town.

Ten chickens are allowed on residential properties, along with up to six of any other kind of fowl.

The chicken and fowl rules, which the town settled on after more than a year of deliberation, are meant to protect the residential nature within the town limits while allowing families to raise food for their own household alone.

“Three rabbits being kept in your backyard is not really sustainable to use them as a food source,” Kennedy said, adding that 15 to 20 rabbits would probably be enough to provide a family with meat.

Richardson said that he didn’t see the need to raise the rabbit limit since only one person was seeking to raise them for meat.

Trustee Erica Sparhawk said that people may try raising rabbits if they see a successful example, just as more people in town set up backyard coops in recent years.

Sparhawk also pointed out that town’s Climate and Energy Action Plan, adopted in 2017, set a goal to encourage local food production.

“We do have a piece where we have highlighted that we do want to increase access to local food,” trustee Erica Sparhawk said.

Trustee Heather Henry said a discussion of the rabbit limit should attempt to draw a line between backyard farming for single-family use and commercial enterprises.

“What’s the right number that supports those policies?” Henry said, adding that for rabbits, it is likely more than three, but less than 50.

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