urban agriculture policy
By Anna Sysling
While Detroit’s 2013 urban agriculture ordinance allows residents to cultivate plants and fish, there still isn’t any language to account for farm animals. But an urban livestock workgroup hopes to change that shortly.
Members of the group include employees of various city departments, such as the City of Detroit Planning Commission. They say farm animals like egg-laying chickens, ducks, goats and rabbits could be legally kept within Detroit city limits as soon as this summer. Their proposal also makes the case for honey bees and potentially even sheep for the purpose of grazing the city’s vacant land.
Senior Planner with the Legislative Policy Division and City of Detroit Planning Commissioner Kathryn Underwood is a member of the group. She’s been working on an urban livestock policy to present to Detroit City Council. Underwood expects a proposal will be ready to unveil in the next few months, describing it as a comprehensive ordinance that’s been years in the making.
The City of Atlanta, Georgia last month named its first-ever urban agriculture director. Mario Cambardella is poised to officially join the city’s administrative roster, headed by Mayor Kasim Reed, in early December.
There is a critical need for such a position, according to Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, director of Atlanta’s Office of Sustainability. She says Cambardella will expand upon the city’s urban agriculture ordinance, which was adopted in June 2014 and changed Atlanta’s zoning rules to make more room for urban agricultural operations.
“We need more urban farmers,” says Benfield. She expects Cambardella to lead the way in refining the city’s urban agriculture policy and identifying opportunities for urban agriculture in underserved communities. He will be responsible for cultivating partnerships with local nonprofits and helping would-be urban farmers to navigate the city’s permitting process. He’ll also serve as a resource for farmers’ markets.
City planners in Lawrence, Kansas are working together with local farmers to finalize changes to the city’s urban agriculture regulations. Home to the University of Kansas, this city of 80,000 hopes to work toward a strong relationship between urban farmers, non-farmer residents, and local governments in other small cities across the country, according to local station KAHB.
In August, the city conducted a survey asking residents about the barriers they face in growing food. They received 160 responses that they hope will indicate how to best support backyard farmers and urban growers in Lawrence. Open meetings were held on September 28 and October 19 to discuss the proposed new plan, which focuses heavily on small livestock but also addresses land access and on-site sales for community gardens and urban farms, among other things. The proposal puts the spotlight on “small animals that are more appropriate in a denser urban setting,” specifically bees, birds, small goats, worms, crickets, rabbits, and fish.
Residents of Sparks, Nevada now have a lot more options when it comes to farming inside city limits.
In October, city council members voted unanimously to approve a new urban agriculture ordinance that allows for community gardens to be built on vacant or blighted plots in the city. Citizens will also be allowed to raise chickens and bees on private properties.
According to City Manager Steve Driscoll, the revamp of the city’s zoning codes had been in the works for quite some time. As a result of the housing recession, the city council wanted to take a fresh look at what would make the smartest uses of available land and zoning designations.
“In the late 1990s, we were building 300-400 new houses a year in Sparks,” says Driscoll. “From 2003–2005, we were building 2,500 houses a year. In 2008, we built zero. We looked at all our building processes and asked, ‘What lessons did we learn? If we ever ramp up and do that number of houses again, what would we do differently?’”
Los Angeles County’s blighted areas and abandoned lots could be seeing more green in the near future.
On September 22, 2015 , the L.A. County Board of Supervisors approved an Urban Agricultural Incentive Zone Program (also known as a Tomato Garden Tax Break). If implemented, the policy has the potential to transform vacant and privately owned land in the county into urban farms, and help reduce blight and illegal dumping throughout Los Angeles city and county.
In addition to adding more green space, the “tax break” also would create local jobs in urban farming and support food security and access. The details of the program still need to be worked out to make it reality.
The city of Tucson may soon expand its support of urban farmers. On September 17, the Tucson Planning Commission voted in favor of changing the city’s zoning laws to be more friendly to small-scale urban farms. The proposal will now go to the city council for a final vote.
Currently, many Tucsonians with vegetable gardens and backyard hens are in violation of city laws. So far, the city has been lenient with its interpretation and enforcement of the laws, but many urban farming projects are still technically illegal, and groups wishing to establish a community garden or farmers’ market are required to jump through bureaucratic hoops. If adopted, the new proposal will legalize and standardize practices that are already commonplace in parts of the city.
The Windy City took another step toward sustainability on July 29, 2015 when Chicago’s City Council approved a new compost ordinance.
The new regulation will allow community gardens in Chicago to compost various types of organic waste, including food scraps such as vegetables and eggshells. Previously, only landscape waste was permitted for compost, such as grass and shrubbery clippings.
Formerly, community gardens and urban farms were only allowed to compost items that were produced on-site. Accepting donations of food scraps was not permitted, and permits were required for all compost containers measuring more than five cubic yards.
More and more cities across the country are adopting urban agriculture ordinances to regulate and provide predictability and direction for urban growers. The move towards adopting local regulations for urban agriculture has not been uniform. Some cities face challenges passing and adopting ordinances while other find widespread support from citizens and state legislators and a smooth path to implementation.
Santa Fe city officials say an urban agriculture ordinance is in the works, but the slow grinding of the city government wheel was too little too late for Gaia Gardens, the Santa Fe urban farm of Poki Piottin and Dominique Pozo that ceased operations in August in response to trouble with city inspectors, according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal. The pair had advocated for change through battles over water, zoning and calls by neighbors for their farm stand to be closed. Exhausted and disillusioned, the farmers stop fighting and closed their farm.