Urban Agriculture: A Sixteen City Survey of Urban Agriculture Practices Across the Country

This report surveys the zoning ordinances of 16 cities and explores how these cities have incorporated urban agriculture into their land use plans. Each city was chosen either because of its long-standing urban agriculture practices or because of its recent efforts to revise its zoning ordinances. All information contained within this report is current as of June 1, 2011.
The cities’ unique approaches to urban agriculture are addressed in three parts. First, we present the regional, political, and historical context of urban agriculture in each city. To provide a common point of comparison, we identify each city’s rank in the 2008 SustainLane city sustainability rankings where possible. SustainLane evaluated the 50 most populous cities in the United States and ranked each city to create the “nation’s most complete report card on sustainability.” Second, we explain the current status of the city’s urban agriculture zoning ordinances. Finally, we provide a detailed report of each city’s urban agriculture practices. Based upon this examination, we conclude that there is no exact formula for the successful implementation of urban agriculture initiatives. Nevertheless, we hope this report will help inform and guide Georgia Organics in fostering urban agriculture practices in Atlanta and throughout Georgia.
To understand this report and its findings, a brief explanation of urban agriculture is required. Urban agriculture encompasses a wide range of activities; the term means something different to each of the 16 cities surveyed. Most broadly, urban agriculture refers to growing and raising food crops and animals in an urban setting for the purpose of feeding local populations. Cities choose to narrow and focus this definition in various ways, often categorizing urban agriculture as one or more of the following: community gardens, commercial gardens, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, personal gardens, and urban farms.
Regardless of the definition, most of the cities surveyed incorporate urban agriculture provisions into their zoning ordinances. Many do so by including provisions regarding community gardens, sales of produce, and keeping animals. Most commonly, cities will address community gardens in their zoning ordinances. While these gardens are formed and regulated differently in each city, administration of garden operations typically requires the city to partner with local community groups.
Many cities also contemplate sales in their urban agriculture zoning ordinances. Usually, the sale of produce grown in urban agriculture settings is permitted. Sales, however, are often subject to various restrictions, depending on each city’s individual needs, desire for urban agriculture, and feedback from citizens and interested groups.
Some cities label gardens from which produce is sold as “commercial gardens,” and set forth specific regulations for that particular use.
Most zoning ordinances also address keeping animals. Keeping chickens is allowed in many cities, and some cities allow for livestock and bees to be kept as well. The regulations regarding the keeping of animals are typically stricter than those for gardens, and setbacks for chicken coops or animal housing and restrictions on the number of animals that may be kept are nearly always established.
Cities often address a variety of other urban agriculture issues, including the length of time the property may be used as a garden, ownership of the land, lot size and setbacks, parking, signage, liability, aesthetics and upkeep, access to water, impact to property values, and runoff and pesticides. While each city’s approach is different, together they form a template from which Atlanta can begin to draft its urban agriculture initiatives.

Date Published: 2011

Author Affiliation: Emory University: School of Law- Turner Law Clinic

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