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Book Review: Urban Agriculture: Policy, Law, Strategy, and Implementation

Apricots photoThe deep orange of a perfect apricot at the end of the long, hot summer, along with the grapevine that transformed our side yard into the secret garden – these are stark memories of my childhood.  The sensory experience sticks with me – the smell of ripe fruit, the clear blue sky, the dripping heat and the endless summer break.  These memories tie me to the earth and live on in my urban gardening heart.  In my first summer college internship for the County of Ventura Planning Department, I drafted regulations for roadside fruit stands – just how big of a stand should be allowed without a permit?  Follow the Southern California experience with Santa Cruz, surrounded by some of the most fertile lands in Central California where I had taste tests between organic and traditional strawberries, and on to Portland where the running joke is that you can source the chicken and honey at the Imperial á la a Portlandia episode.  Given this background, it comes as no surprise that I had the opportunity to peer review the American Bar Associations’ recently published Urban Agriculture: Policy, Law, Strategy, and Implementation.

Any planner or lawyer interested in this topic should consider this Urban Agriculture book a valuable resource.  It answers questions from municipal ownership of urban farms and garden plots, to how urban farming is a first step towards neighborhood revitalization and serves to bridge the gap to access to fresh foods in low-income neighborhoods.  One author examines Detroit’s concerted effort to use urban farming to empower residents and rebuild the inner-city while improving the environment and lowering the heat-island effect, curbing illegal dumping and other criminal activity, providing a catalyst and opportunity for young people to pursue careers in agriculture, and most importantly provide access for community residents to fresh food for all income levels.

The authors provide a guide to appropriate zoning tools to allow safe beekeeping in urban settings, and offer guidance to help determine whether we allow enough micro-livestock to run around town.  The chapter on land use and zoning tools is an invaluable survey of a variety of approaches to urban agriculture and offers some best practice tips and incentives for promoting the connection between the earth, our food and our dinner plates in the urban setting.  Helpful charts compare various approaches to regulating appropriate lot size, setbacks, fencing, ancillary structures, signage and lighting, on-site sales, use of fertilizers and pesticides, compost, soil safety, and long term management of urban farms.  Planners, lawyers, and community activists can pick and choose from the lists and recommendations to determine what makes sense in their own backyards.

For those interested in an introduction to a range of legal concepts covering federal preemption, right to farm laws, and nuisance, this book provides easy access to tough legal theories through an interesting topic.  You can even pick up a few tax law tips and CERCLA considerations in the context of urban gardening.

We all have our connection to the garden, farm and earth.  For me, I’ve got my memories and now, my own garden to plant.  I’m starting the earthly connection with my four year old who is now talking with the tomato plants and plum tree, “Be happy tomatoes!  Be happy plums!”  And when I grow old and talk to my grandchildren, I hope we can be nostalgic about the cherry tomatoes that took over the front yard, just as I did with my own 88-year-old grandmother a few nights ago.  This memory-making can only occur if we are conscientiously planning our next garden and have the space to do so in our urban neighborhoods.

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