Chanowk Yisrael already has the pop-up tent for the farm stand he’ll operate on Roosevelt Avenue as soon as Sacramento County gives him the go-ahead.
Just blocks away in the city of Sacramento, his neighbors are already allowed to sell produce on their properties under a 2015 ordinance. A similar urban agriculture ordinance is working its way through Sacramento County’s bureaucratic process and will be considered by county supervisors early next year.
It covers a wide variety of urban agriculture activities: allowing farm stands where produce can be sold, legalizing chicken-keeping and beekeeping on small lots and keeping livestock in conjunction with educational programs.
At a county Planning Commission meeting this month, about a dozen urban farmers got up to testify in favor of the ordinance, including one woman who wants to teach her daughter to take care of goats on their property.
“The kids get along,” she joked, referring to the term for baby goats.
To craft the ordinances, county staff members worked closely with the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition, a group of urban farmers focused on legislation at the city and the county level. The coalition wants an ordinance that addresses the needs of all the urban farmers in the area, not just the traditional community gardeners, said coordinator Katie Valenzuela Garcia.
“There’s a lot of ways these gardens look … large Hmong gardens seem low-tech, but they’re really successful for growing produce,” Valenzuela Garcia said. “It’s an incredible opportunity to showcase what’s possible in a region as diverse as Sacramento.”
On a recent chilly morning, The Bee visited three urban farms to see what may be possible in the county if the ordinance passes.
Oak Park Sol
Valenzuela Garcia said the community garden in the middle of Oak Park is a traditional example of urban farming. Twelve families or individuals from the surrounding neighborhood pay an annual fee to farm the plots in the long, narrow lot. They grow lettuce, tomatoes, winter greens and a myriad of other vegetables.
Walking between rows of frosty greenery and carrying her baby against her chest, board member Rebecca Campbell said Oak Park Sol leases the quarter-acre plot from a property owner who enthusiastically agreed to help out when residents approached him about using his vacant lot.
A well-established garden operating since 2011, Oak Park Sol has expanded its reach to become a nonprofit that offers nutrition and cooking classes and is slowly acquiring leases for other open plots in Oak Park, Campbell said.
“This lot really shows, I think, a little bit of what’s possible with the county ordinance,” Valenzuela Garcia said. “They’ve really turned this into a space that I think exemplifies … if you create the space, if you work with residents, great things grow.”
Yisrael Family Urban Farm
Yisrael and his family run their farm on two 12,000-square-foot parcels, both behind homes, in the South Oak Park neighborhood in unincorporated Sacramento County.
“It’s not something that’s like a new activity, really,” Yisrael said. “Now that it’s going to be known and it’s going to be above ground … people are going to be able to be more open and vocal about the fact that they’re growing food in their backyard or in their yard, and being able to take it and sell it.”
His backyards are full of fruit trees – including a fig tree that produces about 150 pounds a year – and rows of vegetables. Selling his produce and the eggs produced by his flock of chickens would make fresh food available in an area that has few such options, he said.
“When I was younger, I remember that we used to be able to go to the store and that was the thing – you could get fresh eggs,” Yisrael said. “But, you know, we’ve gotten away from that.”
Just last week, Cecelia Petitt was biking down Roosevelt Avenue when she spotted Yisrael’s orange trees in his front yard. She stopped and called out to him, asking if she could have a couple of the oranges. He grabbed a picker and dropped four into her hands.
Petitt said she loves to bake and was looking around her neighborhood to source her goods. If the ordinance passes, Petitt will be able to walk up to Yisrael’s driveway farm stand next time she wants some fruit.
South Sacramento Gardens on Lemon Hill Road
Stepping up to the fence of the farm on Lemon Hill Road, it’s hard to tell how far back the lots go. Big plots are divided by makeshift fences made of wood and plastic. Green shoots and vines cover the ground. Cha Vang, executive director of the advocacy group Hmong Innovating Politics said the Hmong community has been farming there for at least 15 years.
The approximately 10-acre area is divided between various local Hmong communities, Vang said. Each elder in the community gets a small piece to farm.
“It’s something they’ve done in Laos where they grew up,” she said. “Having the opportunity to use the (farming) skills is something that’s important to them. Urban agriculture is an important part of making sure the elders of our communities are healthy.”
She said farming the land gives elders a way to get out of the house, feel useful and socialize with other Hmong people.
Vang is excited about urban agriculture in Sacramento County because every culture favors different vegetables and different recipes – it’s a huge opportunity for cross-cultural learning and appreciation, she said.
South Sacramento Gardens falls within city limits, but Vang said the Hmong community has eyed other empty lots in the county. Community members face challenges figuring out who owns vacant land and how to get permission to farm.
Valenzuela Garcia said she sees evidence of urban agriculture everywhere she goes. Sometimes she’ll drive around a neighborhood and notice corn stalks growing over a fence, or some rows of mounded beds, and realize that someone is cultivating the land. She’ll pull up the aerial view on Google Maps and realize green space ripe for urban farming exists in the middle of residential blocks .
“This is happening, it just might not look like what you think urban agriculture looks like,” Valenzuela Garcia said.
Sacramento County urban farming ordinance
Under a proposed ordinance that will be considered early next year, the following would be legal in Sacramento County:
Market gardens: Currently undefined under county code, market gardens – where produce is grown specifically for donation or sale – are allowed as the primary use for vacant parcels.
Farm stands: Farmers need a temporary use permit to erect a temporary stand of under 120 square feet or a conditional use permit for a larger stand. Stands could sell fresh produce, eggs, honey and products authorized by the Cottage Food Act.
Keeping of chickens and ducks: Allowed on any parcel in all zones. One chicken or duck allowed for every 1,000 square feet when a coop is provided. Chickens and ducks have to be kept 3 feet from property lines and 20 feet from neighboring residences.
Beekeeping: Allowed on parcels larger than 5,000 square feet in most zones. Beekeepers are allowed between two and six hives, depending on lot size. The hives must be kept in a secure location and placed so the bees fly into the property at least 6 feet above the ground.
Animals associated with educational programs: With a minor use permit, programs such as 4-H and Future Farmers of America allowed to temporarily keep large livestock on properties smaller than 20,000 square feet.