If you live in Minneapolis, and are a local food junkie, you might have heard some rumblings about the Urban Agriculture Zoning Text Amendments that are coming before the City Council's Zoning and Planning Comittee on March 1. This process, prompted by Homegrown Minneapolis way back in 2008, has been a long time coming in terms of making urban agriculture a legal use of land in the City of Minneapolis. After a two-year process in which stakeholders, urban farmers, city officials, and neighborhood residents have agonized over striking the right balance between the entrepreneurial urban farmers’ needs and neighbors’ peace of mind, these amendments to the Minneapolis zoning code are in danger of being severely weakened to the point of undoing all of the careful work by city planners, citizen advisory committees and urban farmers.
Urban agriculture policy plans have been implemented in dozens of cities across the country to foster urban food production, create greater access to fresh, local foods, and provide city residents with the opportunity to make a living by farming on vacant city land. These policy plans often encourage the development of empty lots into urban farms, and provide a unique solution to problems of high unemployment and fallow, unsightly land.
Organizations like Milwaukee-based Growing Power popularized this approach to re-inventing unused city land and turning it into highly productive, bio-diverse, dense urban farms. Farms like Growing Power are providing fresh produce in food deserts and low-income neighborhoods in inner cities and employing inner-city workers. And their sustainable model of entrepreneurship, with low start-up costs, is growing.
Urban farms have been partnering with neighborhoods for years around mutual interests of creating a sense of place and revitalizing communities in cities all across the United States. Cleveland’s urban agriculture policy plan requires that there be growing space within ¼ of a mile of every residence in the entire city, earning the Rust Belt city the 2012 American Planning Association's National Planning Excellence Award for Innovation in Sustaining Places. Our School at Blair Grocery, an urban farm rooted in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, is another exceptional example of functional use of abandoned land. There’s also Added Value in Red Hook, Brooklyn, and the nearly 45 square miles of useable land in Detroit being converted into agricultural land.
Though historically there is more land available in low-income neighborhoods to support the growing trend of urban farms, that’s not the only place you’re likely to see urban farms springing up. One glance at Twin Cities based Stone’s Throw Urban Farm’s “find our farm” feature on their website shows that vegetables don’t have a locality preference. You’ll find their farm sites in the wealthy Minneapolis neighborhoods of Kenwood and Uptown, in addition to historically underrepresented Frogtown in St Paul.
And to top it off there’s all the businesses that have sprung up in support of urban farming. And we’re not just talking compost and seeds. Take Victory Chicken in New York City for example; they’ll build and install a chicken coop, provide three hens, two months of supplies, and a “Chickens 101” training for those who are ready to take on a few egg-laying friends and just need a little guidance. Or Community Bees on Bikes in Minneapolis, an urban bee-keeping program whose goal it is to set up and care for honey bee hives in urban farms, community gardens, and backyards all over the Twin Cities. These creative business models are capitalizing on people’s desire to learn more about their own local food systems, and bring the supply chain closer to home—often their own backyards.
With phenomenal potential such as this in cities across the country, why wouldn’t City Council members in Minneapolis embrace these zoning code changes? The reasons are shaky at best. City Council members who are opposed to allowing market gardening (smaller scale urban farming in residential areas), cite disturbance of the “character” of the residential neighborhood. These worries could be addressed easily by giving neighbors and neighborhoods the right to decide what standards urban farms, market gardens and community gardens need to meet in their neighborhood. Proposed urban ag zoning language already protects citizens from many of these concerns, such as noisy machinery during off-hours, and other aberrant practices. Create standards of excellence—don’t just restrict urban farming completely. You would be unnecessarily stifling a policy that could allow single mothers to sell tomatoes from their own backyards, or kids in Youth Farm and Market Project to learn job skills.
If you live in Minneapolis, you might want to consider e-mailing or calling your City Council member today to talk more about what preserving a strong urban agriculture policy plan can do for the city of Minneapolis. If we allow the text amendments to be weakened, we are giving up the potential for innovative urban farmers, jobs, fresh foods and economic activity, right in your own backyard – literally!
Click here to read more about Land Stewardship Project’s work on the urban ag text amendments.
Anna Cioffi is an Organizer with Land Stewardship Project’s Community Based Food Systems Program. Her parents emigrated from Italy, and forever cemented the connection between food and love in her mind. Transplanted from New York City, she’s especially drawn to the resourcefulness and place-based connection of urban food production. Anna loves her life in Minneapolis as an urban farmer, community organizer, bread baker, and food thinker. She can also be seen planning events with the Yes!Lets Art Collective, hanging out with giant puppets, and surreptitiously feeding her friends.