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Sacramento County OKs birds, bees and farm stands with urban ag ordinance

What will the county urban agriculture ordinance do for the Yisrael Family Urban Farm?

Chanowk Yisrael, one of urban agriculture's most vocal proponents in Sacramento County, talks about what he wants to do if Sacramento County's proposed urban agriculture ordinance passes early next year.
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Chanowk Yisrael, one of urban agriculture's most vocal proponents in Sacramento County, talks about what he wants to do if Sacramento County's proposed urban agriculture ordinance passes early next year.

Residents of urban and suburban Sacramento County will be able to legally grow and sell crops, keep bees, and raise chickens and ducks at home under an urban agriculture ordinance that county supervisors unanimously passed Tuesday.

Proponents say the new legal framework will make life easier for small-scale farmers and provide fresh food in areas that lack full-service grocery stores.

“This sets up a foundation for people working as urban farmers that wasn’t there before,” said Randy Stannard, chairman of Oak Park Sol, a group that helps residents turn vacant lots and underused outdoor areas into community gardens and urban farms.

The new county rules, which amend the zoning code and take effect 30 days after approval, are modeled on regulations that Sacramento City Council members passed in 2015.

The county ordinance allows for market gardens on vacant lots and for people to set up farm stands to sell home-grown produce. It also legalizes keeping bees, chickens and ducks on small lots. Larger animals, such as cows, can be kept temporarily on lots under 20,000 square feet for educational programs, such as 4H.

The county will issue permits for urban farming activities. The permit fees will be waived for the first year, which will serve as a testing period for the new regulations.

The urban agriculture ordinance gives backyard farmers a chance to address food insecurity issues in their communities, said Katie Valenzuela Garcia, a coordinator with the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition.

During the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday, Garcia read a note from Chanowk Yisrael, an urban farmer who lives just outside the city limits in south Sacramento. In his note, Yisrael wrote that selling food from his farm would provide a source of fresh produce in an area that has been called a “food desert” for its lack of grocery stores and farmers markets selling fruits and vegetables.

“I ask you to pass the urban agriculture ordinance to empower urban farmers like myself to grow organically grown produce and get that life-giving food into the hands of those who need it the most,” Yisrael wrote.

Stannard said the ordinance would benefit members of the Southeast Asian community, who make up the majority of urban farmers in Sacramento County. “This ordinance would allow for a lot of Southeast Asian growers to economically and culturally have stable roots,” he said.

Some details of the ordinance must still be worked out. County Supervisor Don Nottoli said the regulations for temporarily keeping larger animals on small properties aren’t clearly defined, which could lead to problems.

“The issue is what standards people can apply to make determinations on what’s acceptable,” Nottoli said. “A herd of steer isn’t going to fit on a 7-acre lot.”

Proponents of urban farming said their next goal is to create special zones where owners of vacant lots could receive tax incentives for devoting their land to agriculture. The tax incentives would encourage urban farming and decrease urban blight, Garcia said.

“We will immediately turn and be working with city staff to bring that future action forward,” she said.

Fatima Malik wants to farm this vacant plot in Del Paso Heights. The City of Sacramento is proposing new tax incentives to encourage the conversion of such vacant lots into miniature farms.

Robin Opsahl: 916-321-1176, @robinlopsahl

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