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Urban Agriculture Archive

The Evolution of Urban Agriculture: Zoning Leads the Way

August 28, 2013

– by Lauren Handel

Good news for backyard chickens in New Mexico. The city of Santa Fe, New Mexico is joining the ranks of US municipalities looking to promote urban agriculture. According to a recent story in the Albuquerque Journal, Santa Fe will amend its city code to allow for food production and farm stands as permitted uses in certain zoning districts, work with local groups to facilitate sales of food grown in community gardens, and explore options for developing large-scale community gardens.

"What do you mean 'I have to move'? I live here."

“What do you mean ‘I have to move’? I live here.”

Santa Fe is appropriately focusing on amending its zoning laws as an essential step to allow for farming and sales of agricultural products within the city. Zoning ordinances are the key legal infrastructure that supports – or stands in the way of – urban agriculture.

However, creating a vibrant agricultural sector in an urban setting requires more than zoning changes. Ideally, urban agriculture and local food systems are part of a municipality’s comprehensive land use plan. In addition to land use issues, municipalities should consider other legal and policy issues affecting urban agriculture, including:

  • non-zoning regulations that affect uses of private land, such as composting on residential lots, and animal control rules;
  • environmental regulations and cleanup of contaminated lots;
  • policies for leasing or transfer of vacant lots and surplus government-owned property;
  • access to capital;
  • access to water;
  • access to markets and other opportunities to sell food produced on urban farms;
  • policies to reduce food waste, such as reclamation and composting programs; and
  • policies promoting food security for low-income people.

These issues and more will be explored in a new book on urban agriculture to be published by the American Bar Association next year. The book is intended to be a practical resource for lawyers, state and city planners, and anyone interested in urban agriculture. At the invitation of Sorrel Negro, Esq. of Robinson and Cole LLP, Jason and I are honored to announce that we will contribute two chapters to the book on land leases and nuisance law in the context of urban agriculture. Stay tuned for more information as publication develops.