Buying locally sourced fruits and vegetables may soon become as simple as walking over to a neighbor’s garden, thanks to a new urban farm ordinance passed Tuesday night by the Sacramento City Council.
In a 6-1 vote, the city effectively opened the door to minifarms on private properties and in vacant lots that would be able to sell produce out of urban farm stands, despite reservations from some council members about urban beekeeping and how urban agriculture may affect those who live close to the new farms.
The new ordinance enables city residents to grow and sell food directly from their properties and offers tax incentives to landowners who allow their properties, including vacant lots in residential, commercial, industrial and manufacturing zones throughout the city, to be turned into minifarms. The farms would be restricted to 3 acres.
The aim, in part, is to reduce urban blight and bring fruit and vegetables to so-called “food insecure” populations, whose access to fresh produce has been limited by a lack of healthy options in low-income neighborhoods.
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A 2009 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that 23.5 million people do not have access to a supermarket within a mile of their home.
Urban farm stands in residential neighborhoods would be restricted to operating Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., except those on vacant lots, which would be allowed to operate without time or day restrictions.
Advocates of urban farming played on Sacramento’s campaign to market itself as the farm-to-fork capital of the country and challenged the city to get farm food to “every fork.”
More than 100 people packed the council chambers to support the ordinance.
James Brady, a self-proclaimed urban farmer who works as an aquaponics consultant, told the council that the benefits to low-income communities and people extend beyond the nutrition. He said giving people the opportunity to sell the food they produce would grow a new population of entrepreneurs and allow low-income people to grow their own food and earn additional income by selling to their neighbors.
Representatives from the Southeast Asian American community said another, less visible benefit to low-income and immigrant communities is purpose, pride and empowerment.
“My family arrived in this country with very few skills and spoke no English,” said Cha Vang, an organizer with Hmong Innovating Politics. “But my mom knew that she could always rely on her ability to grow, cultivate and garden anything, anywhere. Not only did gardening empower her, it also provided our family’s dinner table with fresh produce when most other low-income families had to settle for unhealthy fast food.”
More than 300 Sacramento residents signed a petition asking the council to pass the ordinance, according to the Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition.
In passing the urban farm ordinance, Sacramento followed the lead of several cities around country that have looked to inner-city agriculture to combat blight and produce more fresh fruits and vegetables in neighborhoods with few grocery stores. Among them: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle.
The ordinance’s passage Tuesday was not without concerns from council members.
Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said in Natomas, properties are often divided up among several people or families. She worried that the person with control of the yard could unilaterally make a decision to delve into urban farming without consulting with other people in the property.
Councilman Larry Carr, the lone no vote on the measure, worried about the urban beekeeping aspects of the ordinance and asked whether the insects could be contained or kept away from people. In an attempt to quell his concerns, Councilman Jeff Harris, himself a beekeeper, invited Carr to his home.
Prior to passing the ordinance, agriculture activity – growing produce for sale – was only allowed in specially zoned lots.
New urban farmers would be subject to city water conservation ordinances and would be required to adhere to the same restrictions as other outdoor water users.
Anyone attempting to sell their produce out of an urban farm stand would be required to obtain a business operations tax certificate, city officials said Tuesday. For a stand that earns less than $10,000 per year, a certificate would cost $31.
No liability insurance would be required.
Tax incentives for lot owners who allow their property to be turned into minifarms could add up to $6,127 an acre each year, according to Sacramento city staff estimates, but a New York City study found community gardens boosted the values of nearby properties.