Urban Ag Policy (Written for April 24 Hearing, no vote was taken)
Members of the La Lucha Space community as well as those involved with the Urban Farm Project have been among the participants, over the last several months, in a democratic process of drafting an Urban Agriculture Policy for the City of Conway. This policy is an amendment to the Conway Zoning Ordinance that would clarify some language, legalize some simple and obviously normal activities that are currently technically illegal, and open up the possibility of legal sale of produce by individuals from their homes.
The overall change is very minor, however there is significant potential for these small changes to have a large impact in our community with the hard work of local residents. This an opportunity for the city of Conway to encourage and support groups already hard at work to improve community, health, and food security in Conway. This policy also provides citizens with basic rights of economic self determination.
The policy is in the City Council Agenda for Tuesday.
Write city council to support the policy. You can contact all aldermen by writing to: email@example.com
AND come to the public hearing on April 24th at 6:30 PM @ the District Court Building
(also please read the rest of this article to be informed about what this writer thinks the policy rocks.)
The policy splits Agriculture into two groups. One is Small Scale and one is Large Scale. Large scale basically maintains the same rules currently in place for agriculture which occur on large lots that fall in agriculture zones, but allows others to apply for conditional use for 'large scale' agriculture. Small scale agriculture is allowed by right in all zoning areas (meaning you can do it without any permits or permission even in residential areas). This makes sense because there are some activities you just shouldn't restrict - like growing food, or composting. Composting is defined whereas before your compost pile could have been called a trash heap and thus illegal in all zones.
In my mind the most significant change is the creation of Small Scale and Large Scale markets. If you are not familiar with the zoning ordinance it will help to know that there is a sharp distinction between residential and commercial zoning so much so that no retail activity is permited in a residential zone. For instance, it is prohibited for me to sell produce from my garden in an R-2A without requesting a CHANGE in zoning. Changes in zoning are a very costly, difficult process that also require your building to meet current code of the new zoning. This means that for the retail sale of goods to occur at home in Old Conway the home owner would have to go through a long process that would likely cost thousands of dollars to be able to sell produce from their garden.
This policy would allow you, by right, to sell produce and products grown or produced within Conway city limits. It does stipulate that the activity can't increase automobile traffic to the residence more than normal for the space (increase foot traffic is thought of as a good thing - more community!). The policy also creates the ability for residence to request conditional use (ask permission, make sure the activity won't negatively impact the neighborhood and give neighbors opportunity for input) for a "large scale market" which can include produce and products grown or produced in the state of Arkansas to be sold.
In creating the policy our idea here was that neighbors need to be able to collect the excess of their garden in a small scale neighborhood hubs (ie. goods inside city limits, aims toward garden hubs to exchange excess) whereas the large scale markets would be more established ongoing operations such as Conway Locally Grown - planned activities to allow citizens to act as urban allies to their surrounding rural communities.
The other major point I would like to bring up is that so many activities already go on. Zoning enforcement only occurs when someone complains. Alternatively it prevents people who are trying to follow the rules and ask the city or read the policy from carrying on activities that are beneficial to themselves, further sustainability, and often have positive impact on their community. An example would be that neighbor who sells fresh eggs. That's illegal and probably those who are aware conduct their activities in a sort of clandestine way - this manifests itself simply as an activity they do by telling friends and family 'I have fresh eggs! Want some?" .. Wouldn't it be great though if we could promote, encourage, and publicize these awesome activities? Won't it be great to watch our neighborhoods become networks of fresh, local food!?
Policies don't do all that, they just allow or disallow things. We should adopt policies that look toward our future and make the work of community members possible. This is an example of such policy.
Less than 5% of the population is involved in food production and that portion of the population is getting older.. that is alarming! You may ask yourself: "why am I buying food from South Africa when farmers who grow the same thing in my own state are struggling?" or, "if the average plate of food travels 1500 miles from the farm to the table and diesel is now $4 a gallon - what will that rising price of fuel mean for the cost of food in a few months? years?"
Let's bring food back to our neighborhood, we should change this policy and get to work creating the programs to make it mean something. Just think that in a few short years the Urban Farm Project made it's way from a community forum to an awesome project that gets 15-30 young people in the garden twice a week all spring, donates 100s of pounds of fresh food to the community, educates, and puts on an awesome festival for the community..
Please write city council to support the policy. You can contact all aldermen by writing to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please come to the public hearing on April 24th at 6:30 PM @ the District Court Building
Other Communities at Work!
NOLA City Farmers Network: http://www.noffn.org/programs/nola-city-farms/
Austin's Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms: http://www.urbanpatchwork.org/