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.
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