It’s not easy being green in Kansas City.
Some eco-trends have become socially acceptable — even applauded. For example, ditching your gas-guzzling clunker for something smaller and more fuel-efficient. Eating local, organic food. Swapping paper and plastic for a reusable canvas tote.
But some green practices, such as keeping goats or chickens in your backyard or riding your bike to work, are harder to pull off. Here are five of Kansas City’s biggest eco-hurdles in this era of going green.
Hurdle 1 : Urban homesteading
Brooke Salvaggio and Dan Heryer live on a bucolic south Kansas City homestead that, until last week, had a sprawling vegetable garden and farm animals: 15 chickens and three goats that the couple said played an integral role in the farm ecosystem.
Now the city is forcing Salvaggio and Heryer to give up their goats.
City ordinance would allow the couple to keep two head of livestock on their property, as long as the animals would be kept 200 feet from the nearest human residence. The problem: No space in the couple’s 2¼-acre plot fits those requirements, save for a small sliver of front yard right by Bannister Road. Kansas City allows chickens to be kept at least 100 feet from homes or businesses.
Salvaggio said she and Heryer, who own the Badseed Farmers Market in the Crossroads Arts District, weren’t aware of the distance restrictions when they bought the goats and chickens this spring.
By summer, the couple was fighting to keep their animals.
It started in May, when a neighbor’s noise complaint sent an animal-control inspector knocking at Heryer’s and Salvaggio’s door.
The inspector ordered Salvaggio and Heryer to remove one goat and confine the other two to a pen that met the ordinance’s distance restrictions. But Salvaggio and Heryer had no other place to put the goats.The inspector came back June 4 and issued the couple a citation. That’s when Salvaggio and Heryer appealed to the city for a special exemption to the ordinance.
Why not just move to the country?
“Cities have many wasted resources, including vast amounts of land,” Heryer wrote in an e-mail. “A great deal can be said for re-examining our cities and finding better uses for underutilized land.”
An Aug. 13 hearing at City Hall drew about 15 people in support of the couple and about five neighbors who wanted the livestock out of their hood.
The neighbors argued that the goats and chickens were a noisy, smelly nuisance. Some said the backyard farm could drag down property values.
But the goats, Heryer countered, gobble unwanted vegetable matter and return valuable nutrients to the soil through their manure. The chickens eat the caterpillars, slugs and beetles that spoil the farm’s veggies.
The Property Maintenance Appeals Board sided with the neighbors, voting 3-2 against granting a special exemption. Instead of confining their goats to the tiny (but legal) front-yard space next to Bannister Road, Salvaggio and Heryer sent the goats to a farm in Fort Scott, Kan. They said that keeping the goats in such a pen would be unhealthy for the animals. They kept the chickens but moved them to a smaller space in the center of the backyard that’s 100 feet from nearby homes to comply with city code.
“We are devastated by this decision,” Heryer wrote in an e-mail.
Heryer believes that the board, whose members are appointed by the mayor, rushed to a decision without hearing all the couple’s testimony or examining all the evidence. The couple is weighing an appeal to the City Council.
Another option — moving out of the city — “seems to us an easy and alluring prospect,” Heryer wrote.
Urban farms: solutions
If you want to keep livestock or fowl on your property, study up on city code and homeowners association restrictions, if you belong to a home owners’ association.
Some metro area cities are more animal-friendly than others. Kansas City, Kan., allows chickens if your lot is zoned for agriculture and you get a permit. And Kansas City, Mo., allows two head of livestock (goats, cows, etc.) if your property is zoned for agriculture and you keep the animals 200 feet from buildings. Merriam never made chickens illegal.
Mission resident Jerritt Dayhoff, 33, is considering moving to Kansas City, Kan., so she can raise chickens. Dayhoff and her family kept chickens for four months this spring and summer. She tried and failed to get a city ordinance amended so she could keep the chickens.
“I knew that it was going to be a fight,” Dayhoff said. “I could do it illegally and not even bring it to city attention, but I really wanted to try to bring the urban chicken movement to Kansas City.”
Hurdle 2 : Hung out to dry
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends air-drying clothes to save energy.
But what if your homeowners association or neighborhood doesn’t allow outdoor clotheslines? The Kellybrook Homes Association in Kansas City, North, doesn’t.
President Jeff Wray said it’s all about aesthetics. Some people just don’t like to watch their neighbors’ tightie whities flap in the breeze.
“Clotheslines will never be allowed in our neighborhood — I can guarantee you that,” Wray said.Clotheslines: solutions
Hang clothes in your basement or invest in an indoor drying rack you can stash in the laundry room.
Another way to green your laundry: The EPA recommends using cool water to wash clothes because 90 percent of the energy used washing clothes in a conventional top-load washing machine is spent heating water.
You can also save energy by cleaning lint filters regularly and stopping the drying cycle as soon as clothes are dry, according to the EPA.
Hurdle 3 : Biking it
Jon Selisker, 32, is an avid cyclist who bikes more in Lawrence than in Roeland Park, where he lives.
Even when he hops on his cruiser at home, Selisker said he mostly rides back streets.
“Kansas City’s just not bike-friendly,” he said.
Selisker said he thinks the metro area has too few bike lanes or paths and that sometimes motorists yell at him when he’s riding his bike. One person even launched a banana at him.
Selisker works at Lawrence Re-Cyclery, a bike shop in downtown Lawrence. He prefers the sprawling trails and wide bike lanes of that town, which is rated bronze in the League of American Bicyclists’ 2009 Bike-Friendly America list.
Kansas City didn’t make the list, which this year acknowledged more than 100 cities.
Lack of budget for bike initiatives in KC could be a factor in the city’s reputation. The Missouri Department of Transportation’s plans for a new Paseo Bridge across the Missouri River, for example, do not include bike lanes because the lanes would add $5 million to the bridge’s $245 million price tag.
The only metro area city that’s earned a spot on the list is Shawnee, also rated bronze.
The League updates the list every year, considering such factors as trail engineering, community encouragement and bicycling education.
Kansas City Mayor Mark Funkhouser in May announced his ambitious goal to make Kansas City platinum-rated by the League of American Bicyclists by 2020. Only three U.S. cities have earned that distinction: Davis, Calif.; Portland, Ore.; and Boulder, Colo.
Meghan Cahill, the league’s communications director, said platinum-rated cities go “over and above” other cities to be bike-friendly. Boulder, for example, has bike lines along 95 percent of arterial streets, and when it snows, snow-removal crews work on bike paths and streets simultaneously. The city also maintains a Web site, gobikeboulder.com, that provides tons of information, from bike-route maps to safety tips.
For now, KC bicycle and pedestrian coordinator Deb Ridgway is working to install 100 new bike racks at community centers, add bike route signs on 30 miles of city streets and improve sewer grates so bicyclists have a smoother ride.
But the city’s budget is tight. Dennis Gagnon, a public-works spokesman, said officials are looking at inexpensive ways to better the biking system first, such as removing road grates that mangle bike tires. Meanwhile, Ridgway and other officials are writing grants to net federal stimulus money toward things like bike trails, bike lanes, pedestrian paths and maybe even a street-car system.
Hurdle 4 : Recycling downtown
A residential recycling void loomed over downtown Kansas City a year ago.
The problem: Kansas City picks up trash and recycling only from residents who live in homes and complexes of fewer than six units. Downtown dwellers don’t get to participate in that program, so most rely on private management companies to provide recycling.
You’re on your own if your management company doesn’t want to spend money on recycling.
Those who have the space and time haul aluminum, paper, glass and plastic to the nearest drop-off bin, at 4707 Deramus Ave., north of Front Street.
Jen Denslow, who owns skincare company Blooming Lotus in the Crossroads, said she’d been hauling her business recycling away for years.
“Sometimes it’s a pain in the bum,” Denslow said. “I know many people who just don’t want to make the extra effort. We definitely have to make green practices easy in order for the mainstream to come along.”
And grassroots solutions have been a challenge, said Sheri Parr, who owns The Brick.
“Everyone downtown has had a hard time implementing recycling programs,” she said. “We don’t have the space you have in suburbia,” she added, citing narrow alleys and small apartments.
Recycling downtown: solutionsPeople in the Crossroads and other pockets of downtown have been trying to get an easier way to recycle for the past year, The Brick’s Sheri Parr said.
“The city is not providing us with the services, but others have seen the need and are moving in,” she said.
A few options:
• Deffenbaugh Recycling and Waste Management Services rents 65-gallon bins for $7.50 a month. The bins accept office paper, newspaper, magazines, aluminum, plastics Nos. 1 through 7 and cardboard. The best part: The bins are compact, so they can fit in smaller spaces, and you don’t have to sort your recycling. Find more info at deffenbaughindustries.com.
• If businesses have 2,000 pounds of recyclable material, Batliner Paper Co. will pick it up for free. You have to separate it into bins for waste paper, newspaper and magazines, aluminum and plastic, and cardboard and paperboard. Call 816.483.3343 to schedule a pickup.
• A new recycling company called Ripple Glass is expected to launch a collection program in October for glass food and beverage containers all over Kansas City. The glass collected at the drop-off locations will be remanufactured into fiberglass insulation.
Hurdle 5 : Growing your own
More Americans are growing food in their backyards, now that the economy’s in limbo and food prices are rising.
Gardening may be good for the environment and your wallet, but some people prefer neatly manicured lawns to tomato plants, cucumber vines and bushy herbs.
The Kellybrook Homes Association in Kansas City, North, for example, doesn’t allow homeowners to grow vegetable gardens.
President Jeff Wray said the neighborhood’s developer, Liberty’s Star Development Corp., implemented the ban before the homeowners association existed.
But he agreed that vegetable gardens can shrivel and turn unsightly in colder months.
“If you don’t clean it up, it’s going to look like crap for a long time,” he said, explaining that the overgrowth can drive down the appearance — and maybe even property values — of a neighborhood.
“Nobody wants to see someone growing a field of corn in their backyard,” he said.
Other neighborhood associations allow vegetable gardens but place restrictions on them.
One such subdivision, Leawood’s Highlands Ranch, restricts vegetable gardens to the rear corner of the yard, at least 5 feet from the lot boundary. No vegetable garden can sprawl beyond 100 square feet without prior written consent from the Highlands Group.
Seven million more households this year compared with last year planned to grow fruits, vegetables and other edible plants — a 19 percent jump — according to the National Gardening Association. Heck, even Michelle Obama has an edible garden on the White House lawn.
Plus, the average vegetable garden yields a $500 return on investment when considering the market price of produce, the association reports.
So if you live in a neighborhood that doesn’t allow gardens, or if you live an apartment with zero yard space, you could join a community garden, a shared space where locals come together to help maintain one garden. A good resource is Kansas City Community Gardens, whose Web site, kccg.org, provides a long list of community gardens.