Urban agriculture is everywhere we turn these days. On rooftops, vacant lots, and school yards. As discussed on this blog before, Los Angeles was a city founded on agriculture. With an ideal growing climate, the city should lead the nation in adoption of progressive policies to support growing and producing food locally.
L.A. Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa is committed to establishing Los Angeles as the center of a new green economy. What better way to achieve this than by encouraging residents to grow and sell sustainably raised fruits and vegetables at their homes, in farmers’ markets, and through other food access points?
In order to get there, cities like L.A. must explicitly allow the production and sale of homegrown foods through municipal and zoning codes. These codes set parameters for allowable uses in all developed areas, and ostensibly are in place to maintain health safety. However, many codes work as explicit or de facto bans on urban agriculture. Ironically, urban agriculture is much less likely than conventional agriculture to negatively affect human health environment. Urban farmers can grow food without having to rely upon synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; these highly polluting inputs are in use only to make up for the failures of the industrial agriculture system’s unnatural and unsustainable monocropping methods. In a biodiverse small urban farm, integrated pest management techniques would be used, keeping the environment unpolluted and the farmer safe. Taking advantage of small plots of land would allow residential agricultural crop production to provide true access to healthy, safe, local, and tasty foods while utilizing limited land in a most efficient manner.
To create an environment where residential level urban agriculture is allowed and more simply implemented, cities should consider adopting the following recommendations:
- Explicitly allow commercial gardens, orchards, and greenhouses in all residential zones.
- Require that all new multi-family residential developments create spaces for residents to grow and raise food.
- Allow vending of homegrown products through farm stands or farmers’ markets.
- Revise landscaping regulations to include a preference for fruit trees.
- Stipulate that landscaping associated with growing food adheres to the city’s definition of what is “neat, clean, and in healthy condition.”
- Allow poultry keeping on residential properties. Limit distance requirements to 25 feet, so that residents living in standard 50 foot wide lots may take advantage.
- Allow goat and pig keeping on residential properties that are ¼ acre or larger. For each additional animal add ¼ acre.
- Require or incentivize food and animal waste composting for all households and businesses.
- Establish a certification program where urban farmers learn best practices in organic farming and integrated pest management techniques.
- Establish an Urban Agriculture division to oversee programs and address complaints and concerns.
- Impose a nominal tax on sales of homegrown food products to fund urban agriculture-related programs.
- Create 1 public garden plot for every 2,500 residents. Include communal chicken coops where residents without adequate land may keep chickens.
- Implement an animal waste composing program.
- Establish a local food exchange where homegrown foods may be traded, bartered, or donated.
Southern California has always been a place where residents have lived alongside agriculture. Unfortunately, short-sighted land use policies have resulted in the current environment where not only have most urban/suburban dwellers lost any connection to agriculture, but they have lost an appreciation for its importance as well. Now that the negative effects of our unsustainable lifestyles are being widely felt, old ideas, such as producing food at home, are becoming attractive once again. This is the time to take advantage of changing ideas and implement meaningful policy changes that affect how we will live and consume now, and in the future.
A more just and sustainable region is possible, but we must overcome longstanding cultural biases that prevent people from rethinking how land can be used. Residents need to push their city planners to ensure that zoning and municipal codes contain clear language to support the activities of urban food producers.