COMMUNITY VOICES | 2013 Minneapolis Urban Farmers Collaborative candidate questionnaire: Lisa Bender, Ward 10


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 for public viewing as they become available.

Below, read the response from Lisa Bender, candidate for the Ward 10 City Council 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?

Yes, I strongly support increasing access to fresh, locally raised eggs and chicken to benefit our community. I will support allowing chickens as livestock in urban farms. I also think it is important to ensure that raising chickens as livestock is economically feasible for farmers. I would work in partnership with farmers and city staff to determine what kind of regulation system, if any, is needed to provide safe, humane conditions for animals without creating barriers to raising chickens as livestock.

I also believe the current license fee structure for backyard chicken permitting is unreasonably expensive and support lowering the permit fee for backyard chicken permits.

• 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?

Yes, we need to find a workable and cost-effective solution for Minneapolis farmers to access water. I support a system similar to that provided to community gardens in Minneapolis.

• 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?

Yes! I think public lands are an incredible opportunity to expand urban farming and provide the cost-effective, long-term access that farm sites need to be successful. Libraries, parks, schools and other public lands could provide low-cost land for farmers as well as increase community knowledge about and connection to food production and urban farming. Use of many of these sites would require coordination with partners such as the Park Board and School Board and I will be a strong champion in helping make the case for the community benefits of using public lands to support local food production.

• 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?

Yes, I support on street and off street parking for reasonably sized work vehicles and trailers and would work with farmers to understand what specific regulations would support their needs while not burdening communities with large trucks.

• 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?

Yes. I do not support the current permitting process because it is a huge barrier to farmers selling their produce and limits access to fresh, local food. I strongly support changes to the permitting process, and support a large number or unlimited sale days, reduced permit fees and allowing produce sales from multiple farm sites. I would also support exempting backyard farmers setting up a farm stand to sell extra vegetables to neighbors from the permitting process, as I do not think these very small, locally focused efforts to sell extra backyard vegetables should be regulated any more than lemonade stands.

Broad vision question:

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

I believe the food economy of Minneapolis is going through an exciting transition and support a transformation of how we grow and access foods. I will strongly support expanding the local foods movement and urban agriculture because it is good for our health, our environment and our city’s economy. Urban farms and farm stands could dramatically increase access to fresh foods in underserved communities, better connect our children to knowledge about how our food is grown, and reduce our community’s exposure to toxic chemicals.

In the next five years, I envision our community supporting and building upon the urban agriculture movement. Last year’s policy changes were a great new step, and I would support quickly enacting the policy changes described above to reduce barriers to urban farming. I would like to work with Minneapolis Public Schools to support and build upon farm to school initiatives to improve the nutritional quality of foods served in our public schools and better connect our children to knowledge about local food systems.

I am interested in learning more about how the city can support and develop year-round urban farming and would be supportive of partnering with farmers to expand the local food options grown in the winter. I am also interested in pursuing regional partnerships which might enable Minneapolis communities to access foods grown locally, within a close radius of the City.

I envision creating a full cycle to food production and waste by championing organics composting as a city service. I will also work to reduce our residents’ exposure to toxic chemicals and would support a ban on Styrofoam and am interested to learn more about how the City could support restricting or regulating use of toxic yard chemicals which impact our vulnerable pets and children, wash directly into our lakes and river, and impact our expanding organic food system.

As the next City Council member from Ward 10, I will be a strong champion for urban farmers. I believe our support of local food could set Minneapolis apart from peer cities in a bold and exciting way. As a City Council member, I will not only dig into the details and support policy changes to make it easier to farm and sell locally raised foods, but will partner with farmers to educate and expand knowledge about urban farming to continue.