March 1, 2010
Fair or Fowl?
Israeli chicken farmers object to the government’s new plan for industrialization.
The rich soil of Israel’s small, sparsely populated Galilee region bears an outsize share of agriculture: olives, cherries, mangoes, plums, wine grapes, nectarines, and half the country’s eggs. Galilee’s family-run chicken coops, however, are both inefficient and polluting, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, which held a competition last year to replace them with centralized facilities. The winning proposal, by Peleg/Burshtein Architects and the landscape architect Nathan Gulman, would move poultry farming from backyard coops into 200-foot-long prefab layer farms that promise to generate much of their own energy and process waste in a closed-loop system. But as part of a government plan to transform the country’s poultry industry, the new farms have drawn fire for threatening open spaces and imposing an industrial model on small farmers.
The new design speaks the lingua franca of modern sustainable architecture, with wind turbines, PV cells, and green tendrils covering the galvanized-steel facade. Itai Peleg and Joseph Burshtein, based in Tel Aviv, created a low, organic shape that mimics a wind tunnel. (Due to the hot climate and the amount of heat chickens generate, the interior has to be ventilated around the clock.) They also tried to integrate the farms into the landscape, hiding water tanks, silos, and egg storage inside, and developed a waste-treatment system to turn manure into biofuel. “We don’t want to greenwash our farms,” Burshtein says. “We want them to really work, functionally and visually and ecologically, with their environment.” The Ministry will use the design to guide future layer farms, and Agrotop, a large industrial-chicken-farm manufacturer and Peleg/Burshtein’s competition partner, plans to introduce a version in the U.K.
But the hilly towns of Galilee have proved a tougher sell, with a coalition of groups criticizing the farms’ potential impact on the landscape, village life, and animal welfare. “The design is interesting,” says Itamar Ben David, chief environmental planner at the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel. “But there are many social and economic and ecological issues that have to be considered. The design is just one part.” It’s also debatable how chickens will fare in the layer farms, which can be adapted for battery cages (the often nightmarish confinements used in factory farms) or free-range use. The farms will follow EU standards for poultry conditions, but Peleg says relying solely on free-range farming is impractical in a country of Israel’s size. And Burshtein argues that, however unwilling, farmers will benefit from the new design. “Instead of each one having a small, outdated, unsafe, and polluting henhouse in his own residence, it will be housed in a cleaner, safer environment,” he says. “That means they will actually make more money using these henhouses instead of the old ones. That’s basically just economical efficiency and functional efficiency. Economies of scale—that’s the key word here.”