9 Urban Food Policies for Strong Local Food Systems

Sustainable Economies Law Center's picture

By SELC

December 9, 2013

Photo credit: shoothead. Excerpted from the Policies for Shareable Cities report.

In a sharing economy, individuals look less to big chain stores to meet their food needs, and look more to each other. Food travels fewer miles between producers and consumers, making fresher, tastier, and often healthier food more accessible to city residents. Urban farms, food gleaning programs, community-supported food enterprise, home-based food enterprise, mobile vending, and shared commercial kitchens build food economies based on local production, processing, and exchange. This approach promotes health, local jobs, and community interaction, while reducing the environmental degradation, food insecurity, health risks, and unequal access associated with industrial agriculture and disjointed food systems. Cities can play a major role in removing legal barriers and facilitating the transition to community-based food production.

HOW CAN A CITY HARNESS THE SHARING ECONOMY TO EXPAND LOCAL FOOD PRODUCTION AND IMPROVE ACCESS TO GOOD FOOD FOR ITS RESIDENTS?

1. ALLOW URBAN AGRICULTURE AND NEIGHBORHOOD PRODUCE SALES

We recommend that cities allow and encourage urban agriculture by removing zoning barriers to growing and selling produce.

Urban agriculture has a long history in America, but increasing evidence of its benefits has expanded urban agriculture into a spectrum of farming practice ranging from non-commercial community gardens to commercial market farms.44 Because many city zoning laws pose a challenge to urban food production and sale, some cities have taken concrete steps to encourage these activities.

Examples:

San Francisco, CA – San Francisco created a new land use category called “Neighborhood Agriculture” and permitted the activity in most residential, commercial, and industrial areas. This allows community gardens, community-supported agriculture, market gardens, and commercial farms of less than one acre to sell or donate their produce.45 The ordinance also outlines rules for greenhouses, compost, fencing, and use of heavy machinery, and allows produce grown in a municipally defined “market garden” to be sold on-site during certain hours of the day as long as the sales occur outside the home.46

Oakland, CA – In 2011, Oakland amended the Home Occupation Permit rules to enable the sale of food crops grown on residential properties.47

Seattle, WA – Seattle permits urban farms of any size to sell produce grown on the premises in all zones, so long as neighborhood livability requirements and standards are met.48 These standards include provisions that retail sales and related public activities occur between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., that deliveries may only occur once per day, and that vehicle and parking limits be observed.49

Philadelphia, PA – In 2012, Philadelphia implemented a new zoning code that defines urban agriculture in four subcategories: community gardening, market and community-supported farming, horticultural nurseries or greenhouses, and animal husbandry.50 Under the new code, community gardening is permitted in all zoning districts. Market and community-supported farms are permitted almost as broadly, but require a special review in certain districts.


Photo credit: Linda / Foter.com / CC BY.

2. FINANCIAL INCENTIVES TO ENCOURAGE URBAN AGRICULTURE ON VACANT LOTS

We recommend that cities provide a tax credit to property owners who farm vacant or under-utilized lots, as such activities create food sources, economic opportunity, and civic engagement in otherwise blighted areas.51

A recent study from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine showed that community gardens contribute to an increased sense of safety in neighborhoods, and are associated with a decrease in crime in surrounding areas.52 Tax credits create an attractive incentive for property owners to open their land to community gardening or urban farming uses, with desirable public health and safety outcomes for cities.

Examples:

Maryland – Maryland passed a bill allowing municipalities to provide a tax credit for real properties used for urban agriculture.53 To be eligible for the tax credit, urban real property in a “Priority Funding Area,”54 between one-eighth of an acre and two acres in size, must be used exclusively for agriculture.55

Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia utilizes a carrot and stick approach for owners of vacant and abandoned lots – assessing a yearly vacant lot registry fee, which is reduced if the land is cultivated and which may be eliminated altogether if the garden is registered under the new zoning code.56 Philadelphia also charges higher fees on properties if they have a greater area of impervious surface, recognizing that all impervious surfaces generate runoff that overtaxes the storm water drainage system.57 This incentivizes all property owners in the city to decrease pavement where possible, and indirectly incentivizes creation of gardens.

3. CONDUCT LAND INVENTORIES

We recommend that cities conduct or support land inventories that explore the potential for food cultivation on unused land.

Beginning in World War I, land surveys have been used in the United States to identify optimal urban and suburban farming land. The National War Commission used the slogan “put the slacker lands to work,” implying that any tillable lands not being used for food production were slacking off. During World War II, individuals and families produced up to 44 percent of the country’s vegetables in “victory gardens.”58

Examples:

San Francisco, CA – In 2009, former Mayor Gavin Newsom issued a directive asking the city “to conduct an audit of unused land—including empty lots, rooftops, windowsills, and median strips— that could be turned into community gardens or farms.”59

Portland, OR – In 2004, the city council unanimously passed Resolution 36272 calling for an inventory of city-owned lands suitable for agricultural uses.60 The end result was a publication entitled “The Diggable city: Making Urban Agriculture a Planning Priority.”61

4. UPDATE THE ZONING CODE TO MAKE “FOOD MEMBERSHIP DISTRIBUTION POINTS” A PERMITTED ACTIVITY THROUGHOUT THE CITY

We recommend cities allow food distribution points in order to increase access to local food while protecting zoning interests.

Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are an essential component of a robust food economy and an effective way for small, sustainable farmers to get their products to consumers. During regular delivery of fresh produce to distribution points within cities, a CSA farmer may leave 30 boxes of produce at one CSA member’s home, and allow the remaining 29 members to get their box at their convenience. Such distribution points are vital for the localization of food systems, but many city zoning laws prohibit this out of concern for neighborhood traffic and in order to preserve the character of residential areas. However, by adopting guidelines for food distribution points, cities can address these concerns and simultaneously support food distribution points.

Example:

Portland, OR – In 2012, Portland updated its zoning code to make food distribution an accessory use in all zones. CSA supporters, food buying clubs, and market gardens lobbied for the code change to ensure diverse methods of food access. In order to preserve the character of neighborhoods, the ordinance delineates the types of food distribution activities that are allowed, and includes regulations addressing the size and frequency of distribution, hours for pick-up, and locations for outdoor activities.62

5. ALLOW PARKS AND OTHER PUBLIC SPACES TO BE USED FOR FOOD SHARING

We recommend that cities remove restrictions on food sharing in public places because these rules only criminalize the poor, burden our public institutions, and reduce a community’s capacity to respond to local hunger.

One in six Americans experiences hunger and food insecurity. The problem is not one of insufficient supply, but of insufficient access. Many city ordinances restrict food sharing in public places even when so many go hungry. Allowing people to share food publicly is an opportunity to build community and ensure that fewer people are struggling to find their next meal.

Example:

Ft. Myers, FL – In 2007, Ft. Myers attempted to implement an ordinance that would limit food sharing in public parks. The city abandoned the ordinance after receiving a negative public response, and instead turned to food advocates to collaborate on a new approach to food sharing. Out of this collaboration came a Hunger Task Force which coordinates public food sharing efforts.63


Photo credit: ** RCB ** / Foter.com / CC BY.

6. CREATE FOOD-GLEANING CENTERS AND PROGRAMS

We recommend that cities support the establishment of food gleaning and redistribution centers to reroute some of the 40 percent of food Americans throw away each year.

Food producers and distributors are responsible for a large portion of food waste. Gleaning centers consolidate and distribute nutritionally sound but non-commercially viable food to people in need.64

Example:

Iowa City, IA – The public school district in Iowa City received funding from the USDA to test a food gleaning initiative. In order to allow safe and easy transportation of recovered food, they used the money to purchase trans- port pans and carriers, a freezer to store their frozen food, and training materials on safe handling procedures for the staff and students.65

7. MOBILE FOOD VENDING

We recommend that cities recognize mobile markets and food trucks as a low cost way for food entrepreneurs to enter the market, reach consumers, and create a diverse and resilient food economy.

New food businesses have high barriers to entry, including high rent, and build-out and permitting costs that often run in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.66 Allowing mobile vendors to sell fresh produce, value-added products, and meals not only reduces barriers to launching new food businesses, it also provides diverse food options to consumers who might otherwise have limited choices.

Chicago, IL – An ordinance passed on June 6, 2012 allows licensed produce vendors to sell "whole and uncooked agricultural, plant-based items, including, but not limited to, fruits, vegetables, legumes, edible grains, nuts, spices, herbs and cut flowers" on moveable stands.67 The city-funded Neighbor Carts program grew out of this decision: It helps get food into food deserts and creates new food vending jobs. Licenses cost $75, and the Neighbor Cart program provides carts for lease, training support, and a product-sourcing channel.68

Austin, TX – Austin has developed a reputation for its vibrant food truck (or food cart) scene. Low barriers to entry and the city’s clear forms and instructions enables entrepreneurs with limited startup capital to try out food business ideas.69

8. ALLOW CERTAIN FOOD PRODUCTION ACTIVITIES AS A HOME OCCUPATION

Cottage food industries (value added food products made in home kitchens) increase the viability of local produce and enable food producers to benefit from profit margins higher than those earned through sale of raw agricultural products.

Cottage food laws allow home-based food production of non-potentially hazardous foods like jams, baked goods, cereals, spices, and dried fruits. Cottage food operations are currently allowed in more than 30 states,70 and can create an important source of income to help offset increasing costs of living, and the debilitating effects of growing underemployment.

Example:

California Homemade Food Act – The state recently adopted a law that places a mandate on cities and counties to issue home business permits to individuals engaged in cottage food production.71

9. CREATE OR SUBSIDIZE SHARED COMMERCIAL KITCHENS

We recommend that cities create or subsidize local commercial kitchens that can be economic incubators for budding food enterprise.

Helping small businesses access commercial kitchens removes a major startup barrier.

Example:

New York, NY – Entrepreneur Space is a city-sponsored business incubator in Queens that helps food-related and general business start-ups across New York City.72 It is open 24 hours a day, and serves more than 100 entrepreneurs working to establish their businesses in New York. In its first two years, the incubator contributed an estimated $5 million to the local economy.73

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44 Calfee, Corinne, Weissman, Eve, “Permission to Transition: Zoning and the Transition Movement,” Planning & Environmental Law: Issues and decisions that impact the built and natural environments 64:5 at 4 (2012).

45 Id.

46 San Francisco Planning Code § 102.35 (2011).

47 Oakland Planning Code § 17.112

48 Goldstein, Mindy et al., Turner Environmental Law Clinic at Emory Law, Urban Agriculture: A Six- teen City Survey of Urban Agriculture Practices Across the Country, 20 (2011). Available at: http://www. georgiaorganics.org/Advocacy/urbanagreport.pdf.

49 Id.

50 See: Philadelphia Code Title 14 Zoning and Planning at § 601-602.

51 Garvin, Eugenia C. et al., “Greening vacant lots to reduce violent crime: a randomised controlled trial,” Journal of Injury Prevention University of Pennsylvania (2012), http://injuryprevention.bmj.com/ content/early/2012/08/06/injuryprev-2012-040439.abstract.

52 Id.

53 Calfee, Corinne, Weissman, Eve, “Permission to Transition: Zoning and the Transition Movement,” Planning & Environmental Law: Issues and decisions that impact the built and natural environments 64:5 (2012), citing H.B. 1062, 427th Leg. (Md. 2010), http://mlis.state.md.us/2010rs/billfile/hb1062.htm. 54 Priority Funding Areas are those areas that Maryland state and local governments have desig- nated for encouragement and support of economic development and new growth, including the entire area inside the Washington and Baltimore Beltways and urban and dense suburban locations. Pearce, Will, “Maryland General Assembly 2010 Session: A Summary of Green Building-Related Legislation,” Green Building Law Brief. Available at: http://greenbuildinglawbrief.blogspot.com/2010/04/maryland- general-assembly-2010-session.html.

55 Id.

56 See generally: Philadelphia Code, Title 14 Zoning and Planning.

57 Gardens and other open spaces can get a credit for up to 80% pervious surface, but are still currently charged a minimum stormwater fee, even if they are 100% pervious. “Stormwater Billing,” Philadelphia Water Department (2012), http://www.phila.gov/water/Stormwater_how.html.

58 Orsi, Janelle, “Policies for a Shareable City #11: Urban Agriculture,” Shareable.net, http://www. shareable.net/blog/policies-for-a-shareable-city-11-urban-agriculture.

59 Calfee, Corinne, Weissman, Eve, “Permission to Transition: Zoning and the Transition Movement,” Planning & Environmental Law: Issues and decisions that impact the built and natural environments 64:5 (2012); citing Josh Harkinson, “San Francisco’s Latest Eco-Innovation: Growing Product Almost Everywhere,” Mother Jones (9 July 2009), http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2009/07/san- franciscos-latest-eco-innovation-city-effort-grow-produce-almost-everywhere.

60 Id.

61 Available at: http://www.community-wealth.org/content/diggable-city-making-urban-agricul- ture-planning-priority.

62 Portland, Oregon Urban Food Zoning Code Update, Adopted and Effective June 13, 2012. Available at: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/bps/article/402598.

63 “A Place at the Table: Prohibitions on Sharing Food with People Experiencing Homelessness,” Na- tional Coalition for the Homeless & The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty (July 2010), http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/foodsharing/Food_Sharing_20... Donlan, Franc- esca, “Hunger numbers in Lee County are Staggering,” News-press.com (8 May 2009), http://www. news-press.com/article/20090509/HUNGER/90508061/Hunger-numbers-Lee-County-staggering.

64 “Let’s Glean! United We Serve Toolkit,” USDA (2009), http://www.usda.gov/documents/usda_ gleaning_toolkit.pdf; “Food Waste: Americans Throw Nearly Half Their Food, $165 Billion Annually, Study Says,” Reuters (21 Aug. 2012). Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/08/21/food- waste-americans-throw-away-food-study_n_1819340.html.

65 “Best Practices for Food Recovery and Gleaning in the National School Lunch Program,” USDA Food and Nutrition Service (1999), http://www.fns.usda.gov/fdd/gleaning/gleanman.PDF.

66 “Tips for Opening a Food Truck,” Zumwalt Law Group, http://www.zumwaltlawgroup.com/for- wardthinking/tips-opening-food-truck-texas.

67 Coorens, Elaine, “New Chicago mobile food street vendor ordinance impacts employment and community,” Our Urban Times (7 June 2012), http://oururbantimes.com/business-news/new-chicago- mobile-food-street-vendor-ordinance-impacts-employment-and-community.

68 See: http://streetwise.org/neighborcarts.

69 “Business Applications and Guides.” City of Austin, Texas Health and Human Services, http:// www.austintexas.gov/department/business-applications-and-guides.

70 See a list of states: http://www.theselc.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Summary-of-Cottage- Food-Laws-in-the-US-31.pdf.

71 Details of the legislation are available on the Sustainable Economies Law Center’s website at http://www.homegrownfoodlaw.org.

72 See: http://www.nycedc.com/program/entrepreneur-space.

73 Trapasso, Clare, “Entrepreneur Space celebrates 2nd Anniversary,” New York Daily News (8 Mar. 2013), http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/queens/entrepreneur-space-celebrates... article-1.1282537.

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