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  1. #1 Urban Farmers Fight Nationwide to Sow Green Biz 
    Urban Farmers Fight Nationwide to Sow Green Biz
    Friday, 05 Feb 2010 07:01 AM Article Font Size

    Tara Kolla fancied herself a green thumb-turned-green businesswoman when she planted an organic flower plot in her yard and sold poppies, sweet peas and zinnias at the local farmers market. For her neighbors, it was an eyesore.

    Where Kolla saw her efforts as creating a lush sanctuary, her neighbors witnessed dusty pots, steaming compost, flies and a funky aroma on their tiny cul-de-sac in Los Angeles. They complained to zoning officials and prevailed.

    Kolla and other urban farmers are fighting back by challenging city halls across the country to rewrite ordinances that govern residential gardens. They believe feeding their fellow urbanites homegrown tomatoes, fresh eggs and sweet corn will change the world one backyard at a time.

    Seattle has loosened its rules for backyard goats, New York City's health department is taking steps to legalize beekeeping and Detroit is looking into regulating compost and greenhouses.

    In Detroit, where zoning laws ban growing crops and raising livestock for profit, city planner Kathryn Lynch Underwood is part of a work group rewriting the regulations and defining what kinds of urban farms might need more oversight.

    "The city has not been treating it as an illegal use or a nuisance because it has been a good thing," Underwood said.

    She is hopeful that urban agriculture and the city's nearly 1,000 community gardens will create good jobs in a city that desperately needs them and put vacant lots to use in blighted neighborhoods.

    Kolla, meanwhile, found a loophole allowing her to grow vegetables while lobbying for the right to set up a city farm at her home just four miles from the urban jungle of downtown Los Angeles.

    The challenge for cities is to balance the potential to grow green businesses with the concerns of neighbors who don't want a thriving, for-profit enterprise next door, never mind the noise and smells that come from compost and small livestock.

    Urban agriculture crosses jurisdictional lines, said Alfonso Morales, a professor of planning at the University of Wisconsin. He advises cities to set up a one-stop-shop for urban farms, like they have for small business development, so that city farmers can deal with zoning, home business regulations and nuisance laws all in one place.

    "There's such enthusiasm that people push the laws and upset their neighbors," he said. "The fact is you can't do anything you want on your property."

    While most urban farms operate under the radar of city officials and many neighborhoods welcome productive plots and even backyard chickens, other city growers run into trouble with neighbors who won't be placated with gifts of salad greens or fresh eggs.

    In middle class areas, concerns about property values and aesthetic differences lead to conflicts.

    Kolla alienated neighbors on her quiet cul-de-sac of Spanish bungalows and neat green lawns in the city's Silver Lake section when she began peddling organic bouquets at farmers markets that she grew on her 21,000 square-foot lot.

    "They're trying to grow it into something bigger than what should be in a small neighborhood," said Frank San Juan, who lives across the street from Kolla. "When she started having these gardening workshops without telling anybody, there was no parking. You couldn't enjoy your weekends."
    This is going to be a big issue in a few years. People commonly grow veggies in front yards where I live. The idea is that nothing is happening in the front anyway but the family really uses the enclosed back so why not grow veggies out there. We are also zoned for horses and small livestock.

    As urban farming takes off, people are going to have start talking about zoning issues and property rights.

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  2. #2  
    Power CUer noonwitch's Avatar
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    This is something that Detroiters want badly. There are a lot of urban farmers currently, who sell their produce to local restaurants and at the Eastern Market downtown. On top of that, there are vast areas of vacant land that are not being used for anything. Not all are suitable for farming food (anywhere near the Rouge River is probably highly contaminated with lead and other chemicals), but many other areas are suitable. Greenhouses would be a good thing for the organic-minded farmers.


    It also would provide some new businesses and jobs in a city that needs any jobs it can get, no matter how small the number may seem.


    I don't know about beekeeping, though. Somebody's going to get sued if a neighbor kid gets stung and dies from an allergic reaction. Geoffrey Fieger will represent the family, he'll sue the beekeeper first, then the city for allowing beekeeping. I know my city well.
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    I'd love to see it take off. Denver has several urban farms and some people down there are doing something called multi-plot farming. This is a really cool idea.

    You let the farmers use a certain section of your yard for growing crops, herbs, or flowers. You agree to water on a set schedule but the farmer does all the cultivating, weeding, harvesting, etc. In exchange for the use of the land, you get a certain amount of the crop. :)
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  4. #4  
    Super Moderator bijou's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    I'd love to see it take off. Denver has several urban farms and some people down there are doing something called multi-plot farming. This is a really cool idea.

    You let the farmers use a certain section of your yard for growing crops, herbs, or flowers. You agree to water on a set schedule but the farmer does all the cultivating, weeding, harvesting, etc. In exchange for the use of the land, you get a certain amount of the crop. :)
    Who'd have thought the first black President would herald a resurgence of sharecropping?

    Seriously, fruit and vegetable growing is having a big resurgence here, but we don't seem to get the issues described here as to neighbour disputes. People do seem quite happy to see their neighbours growing food.
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    Quote Originally Posted by bijou View Post
    Who'd have thought the first black President would herald a resurgence of sharecropping?

    Seriously, fruit and vegetable growing is having a big resurgence here, but we don't seem to get the issues described here as to neighbour disputes. People do seem quite happy to see their neighbours growing food.
    I think some of the difference might be in the scale of the operation. It's not unusual here for a house in the city to sit on half an acre. There's a big difference between a two-person veggie plot and what amounts to a truck garden with all of the ancillary irrigation, tilling, and composting.

    Sharecropping. Snicker. :D
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  6. #6  
    Power CUer noonwitch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post

    You let the farmers use a certain section of your yard for growing crops, herbs, or flowers. You agree to water on a set schedule but the farmer does all the cultivating, weeding, harvesting, etc. In exchange for the use of the land, you get a certain amount of the crop. :)


    I like that system. It'll really pay off for the farmers who get licensed to grow "medical" marijuana (all former Hydroponic hobbyists are currently trying to get licensed).
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