The chickens of Seward are on the move. Growing Lots, an urban farm located at 24th Street and Snelling Avenue alongside the Hiawatha Light Rail, introduced a fair flock of 49 birds this past May. However, a recent string of vandalism by local youths brought the egg business to a halt, and as of Wednesday, July 21, the chickens were relocated.
Growing Lots has been converting industrial spaces, such as the parking lot next to Coastal Seafoods, into sustainable commercial farms since April 2010. The ambitious program, funded by nonprofit Seward ReDesign and headed by farmer Stefan Meyers, is one of the first urban farms in Minneapolis to sell directly to local individuals.
Stefan describes the aim of an urban farm as, “getting food production within the city. They’re often thought of just as vegetables, but we’re trying to push those limits, that definition, with animals.” Farmer Jake Schultz chimes in, “It’s more than urban gardening, since you’re trying to make an income off it as well.”
Currently, Growing Lots supplies more than 20 individuals with weekly CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) packages. This April, the farming operation expanded to include a chicken coop and netted yard, and introduced the flock to their highly visible location next to the bike path.
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On Sunday July 11, when Stefan first witnessed small groups of children picking their way into the mesh wire, he took it as a chance to educate. Stefan explains, “We took a proactive approach, we invited them in, gave them a dozen eggs. Take these back to your parents and have them cook you a good omelet.”
Days later, a concerned neighbor, Teresa Nelson, witnessed the same group of children inside the coops. “I thought I’d drive by the garden and chickens to check on them” Theresa recalls, “and I found a group of about six children. When I approached them, they ran over the bridge at 24th Street…. and I saw them go into Little Earth.” The group took over nine dozen eggs, many of which they hurled at cars from the Hiawatha foot bridge.
With continued disturbances throughout the week, Jake was dismayed to discover the night of July 19 that the south wall of fencing had been completely removed, with chickens roaming the nearby street. With Animal Care and Control involved, it brought the city’s attention to the operation’s lack of a zoning permit for chickens.
In April 2011, the city of Minneapolis adopted the Urban Agriculture Planning Policy. This legislation will define and create regulations for the different types of farming to be permitted within city limits, including urban farms like Growing Lots.
Robin Garwood, Policy Aide to Seward Council Member Cam Gorden, explains, “The request to raise dozens of chickens was the first of its kind. Animal Control had no provisions for a request of that size. The zoning commission is in the process of developing regulations, but currently has no policy to permit or deny farming of this scale.”
Adopted policies are so new, they still in the process of being rewritten, and won’t be implemented in the Zoning Code until February 2012. The legislation is so new, Garwood explains, that Growing Lot’s vegetables are “squeezed in under the ‘commercial greenhouse’ regulations for vegetables.”
On August 2, a Community Engagement Meeting will take place at City Hall at 3:00 p.m. Aly Pennuccie of the City Planner’s office will lead the discussion of the city’s new Urban Agriculture Policy Plan with local farmers. Pennuccie encourages interested members of the general public to participate in large-scale public forums, once legislation is revised in the fall.
Looking to the future, Growing Lots is preparing to move to a more permanent location a block north for the 2012 season. Meyers said, “You can’t keep a good pioneer down.”