Zoning rewrite threatens urban farming -- Gazette.Net


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I run First Fruits Farms, an open source urban farming research center in Germantown. The County Council is set to vote on the new zoning rewrite on March 4.

A new use category is “Urban Farming,” which will be allowed in every zone not currently allowing regular farming, except for the heavy industrial zone.

While that seems to be great for making fresh, healthy, locally grown food accessible to our neighborhoods, certain restrictions in the ordinance will kill any chance of urban farming becoming a reality in Montgomery County.

The first restriction is that an onsite farmers market is a limited use for farms and will restrict sales to only produce grown on site. This means a neighborhood farmers market will not be able sell strawberries from a neighborhood farm two blocks over, while a convenience store on the same block is allowed to sell all manner of junk food from anywhere.

Consumers with limited time to shop need a food store with a wide variety healthy food choices. As small urban farmers will only be able to grow a few crops each, unless they can sell each others’ produce, walkable neighborhoods and local food will not exist in Montgomery County.

Currently, the Montgomery County Food Council and others are discussing the concepts of food hubs and other local food distribution systems that will make locally produced foods a viable choice for our citizens.

The second local food killer restriction is that only walk-behind machinery or hand methods will be allowed on these urban farms. Without automation urban farms will not be able to pay a livable wage and make a profit.

I believe the problem with the people doing the rewrite is that they know little about modern greenhouse food production. Most urban farms will be hydroponic and not use soil.

I believe the code rewriters have a mind view of large noisy tractors waking up the neighborhood. We are developing small quiet low-cost robots to aid the urban farmer perform many of the tasks of seeding, transplanting and harvesting. Unless you entered one of our greenhouses you wouldn’t know they were even there. Once the zoning is passed, I can envision an army of zoning enforcers closing down small neighborhood farmers for using automation.

It seems to me a simple general noise/nuisance clause could address concerns related to the right of residents to “peaceful enjoyment.”

Please contact your council member to ask that they at least hold off on the urban farm and farm market zoning ordinance changes to allow innovators in this space to propose workable parameters.

It doesn’t seem much thought was put into this zoning change as urban farming and farmers markets have the same restriction in all zones.

It seems to me issues in a very dense townhouse zone could be significantly different than in a moderate industrial zone.

We need to do more outreach and polling of our citizens to think what all these issues might be and also have a means to allow some level of urban farming in these different zones to uncover what most of the issues might arise.

Peter James, Germantown