Edible gardens will grow in Oakland with approval of permits

on December 2, 2014

The Oakland City Council has approved policy changes that will allow urban farmers to grow fruits and vegetables “by right” on private land in almost all areas throughout the city. The changes, four years in the making, are designed to clear the way for small-scale crop growing and beekeeping by eliminating permitting requirements for small urban farms.

“There’s a special vegetable called ‘changes to the planning code’ that apparently takes four years from the time you plant a seed to the harvest,” said Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan at the November 5 meeting, during the public hearing for the changes. “We’re going to try to speed up that process a little bit.” Kaplan had worked alongside the advocacy group Oakland Food Policy Council, putting pressure on the Planning Commission to update the code.

Until now, the city has been asking urban farmers to apply for expensive conditional-use permits to grow food in empty lots, regardless of the size of their farms, even if they owned the lots or had explicit permission from the owner to grow crops there.

In June, the Oakland Food Policy Council gathered 450 signatures petitioning the Planning Commission to resolve the permitting issue and clearly define the rules regarding urban agriculture. The approved policy came as a recommendation for code updates from the Planning Commission.

The changes to the planning code clarify language about urban agriculture and specify the conditions for which permits will still be required. In most cases, people operating small farms with no livestock will fall under a new “Limited Agriculture” category and will be able to sell their produce without needing to apply for permits. Previously, no distinction was made between farms with and without livestock. The code continues to require permits in certain commercial and industrial zones.

“This is certainly not the end of our work around this,” said Esperanza Pallana, director of the Food Policy Council. Pallana says the Food Policy Council will continue to work with the Edible Parks Task Force, another local advocacy group, to push for changes that will make it easier to grow crops on public land.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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