Which U.S. cities are among the most progressive for urban agriculture?
The answer may surprise you.
Mark Bittman writes in the New York Times this morning that Philadelphia is among the best in the nation when it comes to food policy, thanks to a "forward-thinking mayor" and non-profit organization The Food Trust, who are working together to provide better access to fresh food for the City of Brotherly Love's poorest citizens through the taxation of soda.
I toured town with Food Trust staffers Yael Lehmann, Brian Lang and others. We visited corner stores in North Philadelphia that have enrolled in the Healthy Corner Store Initiative, which starts owners with a small cash bonus and, after a trial period, gives them refrigerators (manufactured in North Philly) for stocking fresh fruits and vegetables. (So far around 500 stores have enrolled in the program; most are in the beginning stage.)
Unlike the average corner store, these had piles of oranges and bananas by the cash register, and small refrigerator cases with greens, tomatoes and, in at least one instance, bags containing 50 cents' worth of grapes — sold out on the day I visited. These are not huge changes, obviously, but they’re significant ones.
And here's a scary statistic: In 2000, Philadelphia had the second-lowest number of grocery stores per capita of 21 major U.S. cities. (I can attest to this -- it often requires a ride into the suburbs just to get produce.)
Not bad for a town that was once referred to as the "City of Brotherly Love Handles." (Ouch.)
Similarly, Jill Richardson at La Vida Locavore offers a rundown of Cleveland's urban agriculture policies, and it's encouraging: this industrial stronghold allows farm stands, beehives, barns, rain barrels, composting, greenhouses, coops and damn near everything you need to grow a green thumb.
Things are a bit more shaky out West in places like Salt Lake City and Oakland. In Utah, city officials are working to put sustainability ordinances in place that ease restrictions on urban agriculture and renewable energy.
That's good news for teacher Anna Christiansen, who says many of her students cannot recognize an artichoke or eggplant.
A similar situation exists in Oakland, where city officials are batling criticism by residents who say they shouldn't need costly "conditional use" permits to sell produce.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports:
The permit would probably cost several thousand dollars, [city planner Chris] Candell said, and [resident Novella] Carpenter also would have to pay penalties for operating without such a license as she is now. Carpenter works about 25 hours per week at the farm and takes in only about $2,500 a year, before expenses.
In response, the city has passed a zoning update with new urban agriculture laws to allow the farming of vegetables on empty lots. (Livestock remains illegal, but the topic will be on the legislative table later this year.)
Similarities also exist up north in Minneapolis, where residents are asking the City Council to amend laws allowing people to establish community gardens and produce markets.
It's usually a win-win situation: cities experience better land use and positive environmental side effects of a greener landscape, and citizens benefit from healthier fare and community activity.
(For more on this topic, Sustainable Cities Collective has a great interview with urban food researcher Nevin Cohen on the subject.)
What has your city done for urban ag?
Photo: The Food Trust