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Seeking to build on the emergence of the local food movement, advocates for urban farming are urging Raleigh officials to craft policies to encourage community and for-profit gardens inside the city limits.
They want the changes to be included in a sweeping revision of the development code, known as the UDO. After nearly three years of talks, City Council members are finalizing the new code, which is intended to foster a more compact, walkable, transit-friendly city.
The proposed rules for urban vegetable gardens have emerged as a point of contention in recent weeks, with advocates taking to social media outlets such as Twitter to seek support for farm-friendly language.
The effort is led by the collaborative Advocates for Health in Action and the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, Center for Environmental Farming Systems and Wake County Cooperative Extension, among others.
City Council members are expected to take up a discussion of urban farming rules in coming weeks as part of their negotiations on the UDO.
The decision to hold further talks came after advocates circulated a petition asking for their views to be heard. The council agreed to send the issue to its law and public safety committee.
Raleigh planners say the code already contains many changes to encourage more community gardens. Raleigh would loosen zoning restrictions for gardens on vacant lots. The city would also provide a 200-page list of possible garden locations to help groups find suitable spots.
“The council has tried to be responsive and encouraging, while still considering there needs to be care taken for the interest of adjoining property owners, and the best practices to make sure we are doing it properly,” said City Manager Russell Allen.
But advocates say the changes don’t go far enough.
For example, city staff members recommend that community gardens be restricted to privately owned property. Advocates want to add publicly owned land to the list of allowable locations.
There’s also disagreement on how to handle for-profit gardens.
The UDO specifies four types of agriculture: community gardens, plant nursery/fruit/vegetable stands, restricted agriculture and urban farms.
Advocates want a category known as a market garden, spots one acre or smaller where products may be grown, harvested and sold. A market garden could be used by an individual or business where products are sold for profit. Animals such as goats would be allowed on properties one half acre and larger as long as the sites are not in residential areas.
“We really want to help communities that don’t have access to healthy food,” said Sheree Vodicka, director of Advocates for Health in Action. “And we want economic development opportunities for those communities. We have the same vision that the city has. Maybe we just have different versions in our heads.”
Under one proposal from urban farming advocates, the various types of gardens would be exempt from the city’s nuisance, stormwater, soil erosion, tree conservation and landscaping restrictions.
“The idea is to lower barriers for agricultural production,” said Erin White, a freelance designer and local food advocate working with the group.
City planners object to the exemptions, calling them a form of immunity.
Advocates say they will make their arguments to the City Council in coming weeks.
“We view it as beautifying the city and helping to create community,” said Jeana Myers, horticulture agent for the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service.
“We’re trying to allow urban farming opportunities to occur where they’re appropriate, as opposed to stopping them before they can even get started.”