July 01, 2015 Urban Lawyer

The Birds and the Bees: Recent Developments in Urban Agriculture

by Sorell E. Negro & Jean Terranova

Sorell E. Negro is a lawyer in Robinson & Cole LLP’s Hartford, CT and Miami, FL offices. Her practice focuses on land use issues and real property and environmental litigation. She is the CLE Director of the ABA Section of State and Local Government Law, and co-editor of Urban Agriculture: Policy, Law, Strategy, and Implementation (ABA 2015).

Jean Terranova is a Boston-based attorney and Director of Food and Health Policy at Community Servings, a non-profit providing medically tailored home-delivered meals to the critically and chronically ill throughout Massachusetts. Jean has been involved with the work of the Boston and Massachusetts Food Policy Councils for over three years.

The interest and demand for urban agriculture continues to rise throughout all regions of the United States, in urban areas of all sizes, and on a variety of scales. Communities are using urban agriculture to achieve a wide range of goals, including fostering sustainability, increasing economic vitality, repurposing abandoned or deteriorating properties, and improving public health and food security. This update discusses recent developments and trends in urban agriculture regulation.

I.  Recent Urban Ag Ordinances

In many cities, urban ag activities are occurring or have been occurring without any regulation, including: individual, family, and community gardening; small-scale farming; and the sale and distribution of locally grown produce. Small, medium, and large cities are increasingly proposing and adopting urban ag ordinances to regulate urban ag activities in order to encourage these activities and control where and how they occur.

A.  Hartford, Connecticut

In April 2015, Hartford, Connecticut, passed a new urban ag ordinance that allows home gardens in all districts as of right and community gardens in all districts as a conditional use.1 One of those conditions is that “[c]ommunity gardens must be maintained using organic agricultural practices.”2 While there generally is a fair amount of confusion and disagreement over what “organic” means, this regulation defines “organic agricultural practices” as:

production methods that promote and enhance biodiversity, biological cycles, and soil biological activity; provided such methods are based on minimal use of off- farm inputs and on management practices that restore, maintain and enhance ecological harmony. Organic food grown in this manner is produced without using most conventional pesticides; fertilizers made with synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge; bioengineering; or ionizing radiation, as described by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program.3

In addition, the new ordinance states that in any residential zone, a single-operator garden, meaning a garden that is run by a single entity either for profit or not-for-profit, “may only be located on college or university campuses or similar institutional settings, in new subdivisions, or on a historic industrial site.”4 Moreover, farmers markets are deemed a conditional use in all districts in Hartford under the new ordinance.5 Bees and hens are also welcome, roosters are not, and no on-site slaughtering of chickens is allowed.6 Proponents of the ordinance believe that it will foster urban ag initiatives and improve food security in the city, pointing to several urban ag projects that have received significant community support and have seen notable success in recent years, some of which incorporate farm-to-table dining opportunities and educational programs into their urban ag efforts.7

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