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Planning commission votes to ease restrictions on selling backyard produce

on June 16, 2011

Oakland home gardeners may be able to legally sell their produce in a few months. On Wednesday the city’s Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal from city planners that includes modifying zoning regulations to allow “crop growing” as a home occupation.

Under the current regulations, people who grow crops at home can only consume the products themselves. If they want to sell the produce, they need to apply for a Conditional Use Permit which costs more than $2,800, said Neil Gray, one of the planners who drafted the proposal. But if the modification approved by the Planning Commission is ultimately adopted by the city, Gray said, gardeners would only need a zoning clearance that costs about $40 in order to sell their crops.

“By being able to provide produce for sale from their homes, Oakland residents can generate much-needed supplemental income while also improving neighborhood access to healthy, fresh food that are locally grown,” said Aaron Lehmer, a member of the Oakland Food Policy Council, an advisory group for the city. Lehmer was one of the supporters of the proposed amendment who came to the commission meeting to speak in favor of it.

“This amendment will provide home gardeners a pathway to become entrepreneurs,” said supporter Esperanza Pallana, who has a garden at her home near Lake Merritt. Pallana believes that the change will help boost the local economy as it generates a new type of micro-business.

The proposal, however, prohibits any use of mechanized farm equipment due to the noise such machines would cause. In addition, the change will only apply to growing plants, not raising animals. Lehmer said the animal issue will be discussed in further forums and community meetings as part of a more comprehensive effort to update the city’s regulations on urban agriculture.

“We’re very concerned that animals will be part of urban agriculture,” said Colleen Patrick-Goudreau, a speaker at Wednesday’s meeting, who is also the founder of a vegan advocacy group called Compassionate Cooks. Patrick-Goudreau said including animals as a part of urban farming will not only cause public health and animal welfare issues, but also add a burden to city services, since raising animals requires more supervision from officials than growing plants does.

The issue of whether Oakland residents can grow crops or raise animals for sale in their own backyards has recently become a high-profile issue. Most notably, in March, Novella Carpenter, who runs Ghost Town Farm in West Oakland, was warned that she could be fined for selling agricultural products without a permit. Carpenter is the author of Farm City, a memoir about establishing her own urban farm where she has grown produce as well as raised goats, chickens and ducks and given demonstrations on raising and butchering them. (Carpenter is a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, which runs Oakland North.) The incident attracted a considerable amount of public attention at the time. Carpenter said the warning was the result of a complaint against her for selling rabbit meat, although she said she didn’t realize that a rabbit pie she had donated to a fundraiser was considered a “sale.”

Although people at Wednesday’s meeting held different opinions about whether animals should be included in Oakland’s urban agriculture regulations, both Lehmer and Patrick-Goudreau said they were delighted to see positive changes happening to the city’s urban farming laws. “This is just a real small portion of the changes that are coming,” Lehmer said, adding that new definitions and clearer process will make urban agriculture “legitimate and sustainable.”

The commissioners barely had any questions for the planners who presented the proposal except for a few positive comments before the vote. “I am very happy to support this measure,” said Commissioner Sandra Galvez. “Whenever I go to Annie’s Annuals in Richmond I am constantly struck by the wonderful reuse of a concrete yard. I was always wondering when can we start something like this in Oakland.”

The proposed modifications will be submitted to the Community and Economic Development Committee and then the City Council for further consideration before a final adoption is made and the process may take months. But Lehmer remains optimistic that the city will approve the changes. The city code “is so archaic and the city knows it,” he said.



  1. Yolanda on June 16, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    I’m all in favor of a zoning clearance that would enable urban gardeners to sell their crops, provided of course, they are produced
    with the welfare of consumers in mind. However, I vehemently disagree with any clearance that would permit the raising and slaughter of animals. This is an entirely different ball game, one rife with pitfalls. In addition to animal welfare concerns, it would create conflict between neighbors, burden an already over-extended police department, and compound the City’s already-stressed Animal Services department.

    Hooray for locally grown, organic fruits and veggies! A big thumbs down to the prospect of urban livestock farming.

  2. Birgit on June 16, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Locally grown and produced veggies sound terrific. Raising animals in your back yard does not. It raises so many questions and concern, do I really want an animal slaughtered in my neighbors back yard ? Hygiene,food safety for the end consumer and animal welfare would be a huge concern, to name a few. Who would be monitoring this ?

  3. locotarian on June 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

    Great article. One thing that should have been included was the fact that Council Member Colbruno was adamantly opposed to animal agriculture in Oakland, and that the other Council Members also expressed concern.

  4. Max Allstadt on June 17, 2011 at 7:52 am

    Raising animals should be permitted, as long as the permits can be revoked in cases of poor hygiene or animal cruelty.

    The vegan advocacy groups, at their core, want to impose their personal preference against all meat and animal products upon other people. That’s unacceptable. It’s particularly unacceptable because vegans make up less than 1% of the population.

    It is already legal to raise certain livestock in Oakland. Chickens are totally legal, though not roosters due to noise. Goats are allowed too, I think. The current situation, however does not allow goat meat, goat milk, eggs, or chicken to be sold, only consumed at home.

    This can all be changed in a way that allows for livestock in a situation that is safe and sane. It cannot be changed to allow for livestock in a way that pleases vegan activists. They should therefore be ignored when they call for an outright ban.

    If the vegan activists have good faith input on safety and preventing animal cruelty, that should be considered, so long as it isn’t a transparent attempt to create a de-facto ban by using impossible regulatory requirements.

    Ultimately, livestock smaller than cattle and swine should be allowed, with reasonable regulations.

  5. Tim Anderson on June 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm

    Hooray! What a victory for urban agriculture. The code change to allow this to happen is minor but the impact will be powerful and positive.

    Restructuring the code to accommodate backyard livestock and animal slaughter would be much more involved and may cause more problems than it solves. In addition to offending people, like myself, who are opposed to the unnecessary killing of animals in our neighborhoods, there are issues of public health, nuisance, and animal welfare. If it were even possible for regulations to prevent any of these issues, who is going to enforce them? Our animal services staff, volunteers, and animal control officers are already overburdened dealing with the existing population of abandoned, abused, and neglected pets. How could they be expected to enforce new regulations on a entirely new set of animals?

    Let’s take this opportunity to declare victory for urban agriculture and celebrate our freedom to grow and sell crops on our property. Why waste valuable City resources on a controversial extension of urban agriculture that would invite a whole host of related issues we have scant resources to deal with?

    Please join me, and hundreds of our neighbors, who have signed a petition to prevent the proliferation of backyard livestock and animal slaughter in Oakland. The petition can be found at

  6. emily wood on June 17, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you to the planning commision for commiting to healthful foods for Oakland. And thank you thank you thank you for divesting this action from being bundled with the cruel, environmentally devestating, and economically unfeasible concept of treating animals as livestock in our urban core. Thanks to Council Member Colbruno for speaking out against such action!

  7. Ricky Silver on June 23, 2011 at 11:40 pm

    I applaud the city for this stride forward. Oakland has much to gain by allowing its citizens to grow and sell their own produce. Given our wealth of vacant lots and abandoned houses, I imagine much creative (and productive) use of derelict land.

    My one concern is, however, that there is a rather vocal minority concerned with livestock raising in the city. Although I understand and respect their concerns for the welfare of these animals, I feel that many are opposed on the grounds that eating meat is wrong (which is not the issue at hand).

    I think the major flaw in their objection to backyard livestock is that these animals would somehow live fuller lives if they were raised and slaughtered in factory farms hundreds of miles away.

    I happen to know quite a few people who raise backyard livestock for food (chickens, quail, ducks) who treat their animals with respect and the utmost care.

    I support people forging deeper connections with their food which is why I support backyard produce and livestock.

  8. Pluck and Feather » Media Coverage on October 8, 2011 at 8:34 am

    […] June 16, 2011 Planning commission votes to ease restrictions on selling backyard produce (Oakland North) […]

  9. Diane Harrison on December 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm

    I completely agree with Yolanda and the others who say Thumbs up to plants, Thumbs down to animals.

  10. […] Debate over backyard farming continued as the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee ruled that Phat Beets Produce must get a permit to grow food at Dover Street Park, and the city’s Planning Commission voted to ease restrictions on growing and selling backyard produce. […]

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