Legalizing Urban Farming

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Peter Ladner:

"Cities all over North America are struggling to figure out how to allow farm uses in traditionally residential, commercial or industrial neighborhoods. Baltimore, for example, is revising its zoning to officially recognize community gardens and urban farms; the change is expected to become law in 2011.

Cleveland has already added a new "urban garden district" designation in its zoning code that allows for both community gardens and urban farms. The code includes details about allowable structures, including chain-link fencing up to six feet high, something not allowed elsewhere in the zoning code. Cleveland's director of planning says there was initial public resistance to having farms in the city, but since the zoning changes were made, not one person has complained. Cleveland is now considering allowing an "agricultural overlay" on lands zoned for other uses, allowing temporary agricultural uses until other development takes over.

Philadelphia has changed its zoning code to open up residential districts to "agriculture and horticulture, except the commercial keeping or handling of farm stock or poultry; and except commercial greenhouses or establishments for sale of farm or horticultural products." This effectively allows community gardens but not commercial farms.5 Philadelphia's next step is to recognize urban agriculture as a primary land use in its new zoning code, including commercial farming. The goal is to bring local food within 10 minutes of 75% of residents.

Milwaukee has generous provisions for "raising crops or livestock" in residential districts, not just allowing community gardens but also a range of livestock unheard-of in most cities: cattle, horses, sheep, swine, goats, chickens, ducks, turkeys, geese or any other domesticated livestock permitted by the health department." (

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