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San Francisco adopts progressive urban agriculture law

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San Francisco's new urban agriculture policy makes urban agriculture legal throughout the city, along with selling produce from the gardens.

It's now a lot easier to be a farmer in San Francisco.

That's because Mayor Ed Lee signed legislation yesterday that makes San Francisco's urban agriculture policy one of the most progressive in the U.S.

The legislation explicitly allows urban agriculture in all city zones. It also makes it legal for any garden to sell their produce on-site throughout the city. And it's now less of a financial burden to convert vacant lots to urban gardens because permit fees were lowered from $3000 to $300.

The San Francisco Examiner reports:

The ordinance, which also makes it possible for city-owned plots of less than 1 acre to be turned into urban gardens, makes San Francisco the first major American city to modify its planning code to allow such practices.

In describing the urban agricultural ordinance as "precedent-setting" and "smart legislation," the interim mayor hoped to send a message to future leaders of The City.

"We’ve got to break open these vacant lots, we’ve got to do something more with our land," Lee said.

Many of the urban ag projects in San Francisco are non-profit gardens that grow produce for public benefit. The new law will also have a positive impact on those projects. Civil Eats explains:

Should for-benefit (i.e. non-profit) farm projects seek to raise some of their operating funds through sales, including of value-added products, this will now be allowed. This could also open the door for social justice-minded urban farms to create truly green jobs without requiring so much grant funding.

Urban agriculture is a a good use of vacant urban land. But unfortunately many cities are silent on the issue, or at least restrict it to certain zones in the city. Outdated zoning ordinances can not only discourage new gardens, but dampen the entrepreneurial spirit in cities where there's a desire for fresh, local food. Fortunately San Francisco's new law sees past that and celebrates all forms of the urban agriculture -- from community gardens to market gardens.

Photo: ol slambert/Flickr

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Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure