Fighting for the Right to Farm

Zoning rules can mean the difference between a thriving urban farm and an illegal business. What a struggle in California says about the need for reform.

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You might think that turning a deserted and trash-filled empty lot into an urban farm would please city officials, but not in Oakland, California.

Monday's San Francisco Chronicle has a sobering article on the efforts of Novella Carpenter, author of the terrific Farm City (a book I use in my classes), to make her working farm legal.

To continue running her farm, Novella needed a conditional use permit that would cost about $2,500. She got the money by raising it through her Ghost Farm blog.

The good news is that city officials are listening:

Oakland planning officials said they are about to embark on an ambitious plan to revamp the zoning code to incorporate the increasing presence of agriculture in the city.

The plan is to develop rules and conditions allowing anyone to grow vegetables and sell produce from their property without a permit. The Oakland plan would go beyond that of other cities, including San Francisco, because it would also set up conditions for raising farm animals without a permit....Oakland's rules have always allowed the growing of vegetables and raising animals for personal use on residential property. But selling, bartering or giving away what you grow is not legal without a permit. The new rules will establish limits on distributing food, including food byproducts like jam, without a permit.

Animals are likely to be the most contentious issue because neighbors tend to be more bothered by bleating, honking, clucking and crowing. Complaints about vegetables are rare.

I'm guessing other cities will have to start dealing with these issues if they haven't done so already, not least because so many people want backyard chickens.

I'm growing salad and blueberries on my Manhattan terrace, but not enough to sell, alas. Maybe next year!


This post also appears on Food Politics.
Image: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Presented by

Marion Nestle is a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. She is the author of Food Politics, Safe Food, What to Eat, and Pet Food Politics. More

Nestle also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology at NYU and Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell. She is the author of three prize-winning books: Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (revised edition, 2007), Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety (2003), and What to Eat (2006). Her most recent book is Feed Your Pet Right: The Authoritative Guide to Feeding Your Dog and Cat. She writes the Food Matters column for The San Francisco Chronicle and blogs almost daily at Food Politics.

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