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Dec 16, 2016

Santa Fe Urban Agriculture Ordinance May Produce Infrastructure Work

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The vote came after years of confusion between those who like to plant and sell produce and those who wondered about how legal it all was.

In early November, members of the Santa Fe City Council unanimously approved an ordinance allowing for residents to sell the produce they grow from their own home gardens.

“We have never actually before had a structure in place here for people who want to do urban agriculture,” says Pam Roy, an originating member of the Santa Fe Food Policy Council, “so this is a great step forward.”

The new ordinance means that local residents, following specific Santa Fe regulations, can operate their own farm stands, a distinct change from the previous city code prohibiting the operation of individual commercial agricultural activities.

“Previously, city code had no provision in it that spoke directly to enabling people, whether they were in a residentially zoned area or commercially zoned area, to sell at a specific location that they live or have a business on,” notes John Alejandro, the City of Santa Fe’s renewable energy planner.

That lack of specific code language sometimes had unfortunate consequences. In 2015 the owner of a popular urban farm in a residential part of the city known as the Gaia Gardens decided to cease operations after repeated conflicts with the city which included charges of violating the Santa Fe zoning ordinances and operating without a business license.

In closing the Gaia Gardens, proprietor Poki Piottin told the Albuquerque Journal that he did not blame city inspectors, as much as local officials: “The City as a politically elected body are really the ones responsible.”

The fortunes of the Gaia Gardens were consequently on the minds of Santa Fe Food Policy Council members who put together a study group, says Roy, “to actually see what people were doing with their own individual gardens, and then propose how the city could make this type of activity legal.”

“They really wanted to draft something that not only enabled people to do simple farms and gardens, but also to find out what was going on with advanced farming technologies like aquaponics and aquaculture,” says Alejandro of the study group.

Once the group’s work, after months of input, was completed, says Alejandro, “the ordinance was crafted in a way that scales appropriately to enable these different technologies to be established and thrive.”

In trying to fashion a comprehensive code approach to urban agriculture, Santa Fe has hardly been alone.

Across the country tens of thousands of urban farms and gardens in recent decades have bloomed: Detroit today has more 1300 such operations, while Boston and Denver count the number of urban farms and gardens within their borders in the hundreds.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn’t track the numbers of city farmers, but based on demand for its programs that fund education and infrastructure in support of urban ag projects, and surveys of urban ag in select cities, it affirms that business is booming,” notes author Elizabeth Royte in the magazine Ensia.

Along with that boom has come a marked increase in the construction of infrastructure needed for many such farms and gardens, including water pipes, tools sheds, washing stations, and specially designed greenhouses of varying sizes that can include LED lighting, irrigation systems, and solar PVC panels.

But while money is clearly being spent on the upfront side starting gardens, notes Roy, money is also “staying in the community” when it comes to “buying our food in grocery stores not from producers that are 1,500 miles away, but from food that is locally produced and sold.”

“That’s one of the things that is not talked about as much,” continues Roy. “Urban agriculture increases food access in our community, but it also creates economic opportunity.”

It is that economic factor that, in the end, animated the new Santa Fe ordinance.

“You can grow whatever you want right now for personal consumption, utilizing whatever techniques you want,” Alejandro told members of the Santa Fe City Council last month.

But as soon as anyone sells the produce they grow, added Alejandro, “there’s got to be a set of rules and regulations in place to provide a very basic and sensible level of protection for our community.”

An additional provision of the Santa Fe ordinance will allow the city two years from now to review the ordinance and its impact on local urban agriculture.

“It will be a matter of reporting back to the city council what has been learned, who has applied for permits, that sort of thing,” says Roy. “And at that point, if anything needs to be added to it or adjusted, that will be the time to do it.”   

 

By Garry Boulard

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