Detroit’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance Gets Community Review

September 24, 2012 | Posted by Ed .

Urban farming is on the verge of being legalized in Detroit. It’s not backyard gardens that are being addressed in the city’s newly proposed Urban Agricultural Ordinance, but entire lots decked out in vegetable production that have previously been “un-lawful” in the city. Wednesday evening marked the first in a series of three community meetings scheduled to discuss Detroit’s proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance. The ordinance represents years of concerted effort to develop city policy that legalizes and administrates the practice of farming in the city.

For decades, agricultural practice within city limits has been taking place in a gray legal area that has not been formally recognized until recently. The changing the city ordinance is necessary "In order to allow for [farming] to take place legally across the city," said Kathryn Underwood City Planner for the CPC and strong proponent for the legalization of Detroit culture. The event offered attendees visual examples of terms that seek to clarify the ordinance. Terms like “Aquaponics”, “Farm Stand”, “Hoophouse”, and even “Urban Farm” are now getting official legal descriptions and definitions with the city.

Marcell R. Todd, Jr., director of the CPC, detailed the policy process made by people within the Commission, as well as numerous contributors including the Detroit Food Policy Council, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture & Rural Development, Underwood introduced the ordinance with a brief history of agriculture in Detroit, highlighting a number of ways that horticulture has played a role in Detroit’s development as far back as the 1700’s, when ribbon farms formed three-mile strips of farmland starting at the Detroit River.

Currently, The Greening of Detroit, an environmental non-profit in the city, helps sponsor the Garden Resource Program which currently has more than 2,000 family and community gardens registered within Detroit and offers invaluable starters, education and support for gardens of all sizes and farmers of all ambitions. Underwood also discussed the details of the proposed Urban Agriculture Ordinance, highlighting the CPC’s recognition of the urban agriculture movement already in progress, the reality of current-day vacant lot percentages, and the potential for Detroit to become a world-leader in its approach to integrating this vital new movement into city policy.

The ordinance itself is concerned solely with the cultivation aspects of agriculture within the city. Future plans to address policy surrounding popular livestock such as chickens, bees, and goats are a separate initiative. Underwood presented critical definitions of the ordinance, clarifying the term “Urban Garden” to comprise an area of up to 1 acre—or approximately 14 city lots—and an “Urban Farm” to be a zoning lot of more than 1 acre. She said this ordinance intends to administrate areas for which cultivation of plants or food crops is the “principal use of land,” unlike a family garden on privately owned property, which is considered a secondary use. Gardens like these are entirely legal under existing city policy.

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