Thursday, November 11, 2010

Down on the (Urban) Farm...

This past Monday, Just Harvest Co-Director Ken Regal testified as part of Pittsburgh City Council's public hearing on zoning for urban agriculture.

Council is mulling over changes to the urban agriculture ordinance, which aim to make some of the provisions of the current policy friendlier to chicken-farmers and beekeepers in the city.

Just Harvest recognizes that removing barriers to urban farming represents yet another vital step in creating better access to nutritious food for city residents - especially for those living in areas otherwise underserved by retail outlets for healthy food. Here's what Ken had to say:

"Thank you for holding today’s hearing and for the opportunity to speak with you about the importance of encouraging small scale agriculture in the City of Pittsburgh.

"At first glance, it might seem that agriculture is out of place in an urban setting; that city life is the polar opposite of farm life. It is no surprise, therefore, that the city has often referred to land being used to grow food as “vacant” and has thought of animals other than traditional pets as exotic nuisances.

"But we live in a time when these false assumptions are falling by the wayside in cities throughout the country, and when the industrial approach to global food production is making people sick, leaving millions at risk of hunger, and wreaking havoc on the environment.

"We heartily endorse the changes to the city zoning code that make it easier for people to grow food for sale on land in our neighborhoods. We heartily endorse the zoning changes that enable city residents to raise a few chickens or put in a beehive, while setting some regulations that ensure that these activities are carried out responsibly.

"Small and medium scale urban agriculture is good for Pittsburgh. It makes for a more diverse and self-sufficient economy. It provides more sources of healthy, affordable food for consumers. It welcomes immigrants with small-scale business opportunity and access to culturally appropriate foods. It teaches a new generation that food comes from the ground, not from a microwavable plastic container. It keeps the city green. It turns land that is truly “vacant” into land that is productive and beneficial to the community. It can even protect the city from natural or man-made calamities that damage the global food production infrastructure.

"We encourage you to see these essential long-term benefits as a reason not only to pass these zoning changes, but to see them as a start of a broader process that actively encourages urban agriculture. We hope for instance that Council will take action in the coming months to also revise the fee structures that may put these urban agriculture opportunities out of reach for many. Few measures will come before the City Council this year that have as many potential benefits, and at so little cost.

"Provisions to encourage Urban Agriculture have been passed in many cities recently, including Seattle, Portland, Nashville, Albuquerque, and Cleveland. But in the hopes that we can find much better models for our future than Cleveland, I refer you to an article (see published last summer in the Times of London. It reported on the exciting growth of bee-keeping in downtown Paris. Paris has more than 300 registered beehives, including large colonies being raised on the roofs of the Paris Opera and the Grand Palais. So, if bees and chickens and locally grown food are good enough for Paris, they should be good enough for Pittsburgh."

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