COMMUNITY VOICES | 2013 Minneapolis Urban Farmers Collaborative candidate questionnaire: Tim Springer, Ward 9

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The Minneapolis Urban Farmer’s Collaborative has invited candidates for Minneapolis City Council, Parks & Recreation Board, and Mayor to complete a candidate questionnaire to determine where the candidates stand on current policy issues relevant to urban agriculture, including food production on public park lands, on-site vegetable sales for urban producers, and ownership of chickens for small-scale commercial purposes. Completed candidate questionnaires are being posted on the Minneapolis Issues Forum at www.e-democracy.org for public viewing as they become available.

Below, read the response from Tim Springer, candidate for the Minneapolis City Council Ward 9 seat.

Urban agriculture city code amendments passed Minneapolis city council in spring of 2012 and laid the groundwork for urban farms to take root. In the year since these new rules have been in place many small businesses have endeavored to grow, sell, prepare, and compost hundreds of thousands of pounds of Minneapolis produced fruits and vegetables. This spring, the urban farmers and residents that rely on their food would like to enhance the growing environment for urban farms in Minneapolis. The following initiatives and rule changes would nourish and enrich this growing movement.

Do you as a candidate for -Mayor, City Hall- support the following initiatives and rule changes in order to promote urban farming in Minneapolis?

The current MPLS chicken ordinance only allows chickens in residential back yards. Many urban residents would like to purchase eggs and chicken from urban farms, and urban farmers could use the proceeds from chicken farming to support their urban farms in the winter months. Do you as a candidate support allowing chickens as livestock at urban farms?

Answer: Yes, so long as a suitable framework to regulate this land use can be created that addresses concerns regarding potential negative impacts on nearby residents and perhaps also concerns regarding the treatment of animals. I understand that chickens could have benefits related to providing nutrients for the soil as well as providing farm income in winter months.

Urban farm sites often don’t have water spigots and in most cases urban farmers purchase water from neighbors to water their plots. Will you as a candidate work to build affordable access to city water hydrants and support city cost assistance for water for urban farmers and community gardens?

Answer: Yes. Urban farms do not result in city costs related to handling waste water because the water stays on the land rather than going into the sanitary sewer and storm drainage system.

Also, urban farms are a social good. They provide a safety benefit by creating more eyes and ears outdoors and person-to-person relationships in the neighborhood. The city should consider extending its water access grant program now available to community gardens for new spigot installations for urban farms, or in some way facilitating convenient access to water for urban farms.

Urban land is priced too high for urban farming to be financially sustainable. Most urban farms are leasing land without any guarantee that they’ll be able to continue leasing year to year.

Urban farm sites need years of fertility building before they become highly productive. Do you as a candidate support creating a city pilot program for leasing public lands for urban farming?

Answer: Yes. Local food production has potentially large social and health benefits if done on a larger scale. A pilot program would allow testing the idea of public land for urban gardens before finalizing such an arrangement.

Urban farmers and family owned businesses rely on their work vehicles to run their local businesses. It is currently illegal by city code to park work vehicles on the street in Minneapolis, resulting in hundreds of family owned businesses being fined for parking in front of their homes. Will you as a candidate support small businesses by removing barriers to on street and off street parking of contractor work vehicles and trailers?

Answer: I do not have an opinion on this matter. While I understand the challenge for small businesses with business-related vehicles to store, I need to better understand impacts on the community. Also, I like the idea of decreasing the amount of public land used for pavement in the city rather than maintaining or increasing it.

Urban gardeners and farmers who wish to sell produce to neighbors now have to apply for a costly permit to sell vegetables. This permit only allows for 15 days of on-site sales per year, and when seeking a permit, farmers must pre-schedule their sales days. Since weather, climate, and variations in growing seasons affect production of vegetables it is almost impossible to predict when will be the best days to sell vegetables. Additionally if one farmer runs multiple sites, that farmer must apply for multiple permits to have sales from each site. These restrictions mean that valuable produce is going to waste even while there is a high demand for purchasing it within the neighborhoods. Will you as a candidate support the local food system by easing the permitting process for on-site vegetable sales, by reducing permit fees, increasing the amount of days farmers can sell, and allowing produce sales from multiple farm sites?

Answer: I would support easing the on-site produce sales permit process on a pilot program basis to learn whether there are negative impacts related to motorized vehicle traffic, or if the number and share of customers arriving on foot or by bicycle result in a traffic situation that is acceptable to nearby residents.

Broad vision question:

As a candidate for public office, what would you like the food economy of Minneapolis to look like in 2017?

Answer: I would like the food economy in Minneapolis in 2017 to include more land being used for growing food both by urban farmers who sell their produce as well as by individuals or groups who tend their own gardens to grow their own food. If we think 50 years ahead, it would be nice if about 50% of the foods we eat that can be grown locally are grown locally, and by the near-term year of 2017 that trend is appropriately underway.