Coming to a vacant lot near you, the neighborhood farm

Farmers market
In 2007, advocates of locally grown foods partnered with Minneapolis officials to make it easier for community groups to open small markets.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Farmers looking for land to grow food to sell may have another option.

A plan to expand urban agriculture in Minneapolis passed the city's zoning and planning committee on Thursday, opening the door for farmers to turn vacant lots into commercial farms.

Minneapolis is already home to community gardens and farmers markets, but the city lacked definitions or regulations of land used to grow and sell food. Urban agriculture supporters said that made it impossible to get approval for innovative farming projects.

Similar plans have been adopted in Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland and Detroit.

"If some of these policy barriers can be reduced, what you'll see is a swell of entrepreneurs stepping forward who are trying to create jobs and who are trying to bring more healthy foods into communities that are underserved," said JoAnne Berkencamp, a local foods advocate from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The Urban Agriculture Policy Plan includes recommendations to allow small, one-plot farms, called "market gardens," and larger urban farms. It also includes provisions to allow homeowners to grow food in their front yards and provides a more formal definition of community gardens. The plan still needs to receive approval from the City Council, and the council will then consider specific zoning changes.

"This is a big step here," said Second Ward Council Member Cam Gordon, a key backer of the plan. "It's an exciting opportunity to get more good food in our city."

Gordon hoped the zoning and planning committee would not alter original version of the plan created by community members and city planners, but he agreed to amend several sections after members raised objections.

Committee members worried farms would annoy homeowners or decrease property values. The revised plan left out specific mention of where farms could be located. The zoning board could allow farms in neighborhoods dominated by single-family homes, but that decision won't be made until later in the year.

Zoning committee members also talked about farms that might include livestock. The committee voted Thursday to remove a recommendation to consider whether to allow goats in the city. Seventh Ward Council Member Lisa Goodman said given the city's tight budget, it would be "ridiculous" to spend money studying goats.

Tenth Council Member Meg Tuthill also opposed the recommendation. She said she moved to Minneapolis because she wanted to leave the farm life of her childhood behind.

Tuthill added, "When the wind blows the right way, it can be very fragrant in our households."

Russ Henry, a farmer in Maplewood, attended the committee meeting to show his support for the plan. He had hoped the city would agree to study the goat issue, but said that he's still pleased with the revised plan.

"Folks are realizing that this isn't a Democratic or Republican issue," he said. "This crosses political boundaries because everyone's got to eat."

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