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 Jacob Frey, candidate for the Ward 3 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 City Hall- support the following initiatives and rule changes in order to promote urban farming in Minneapolis?
· 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, I believe that expanding the grants available to community gardens should be made available to urban farms. I also know that the fees associated with water use is of concern. It may be necessary to look at ways to implement a sliding scale based on size and historic water use.
· 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?
I do. For what land is available, I believe that a deadline for community gardens should be available and then opened up to urban farmers. It is not a good use of city resources to let seven lots sit vacant in North Minneapolis when there are farmers willing and able to utilize this space. For a more long-term solution, I believe we need to look at what means can be used to incentivize private landowners to lease their vacant properties. This includes looking at property tax cuts for those who lease land to farmers. Indeed, food is a utility much like energy, and water. We need find ways of maximizing our local food supply, like we should with our energy and water supplies.
· 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. While I understand the history of this ordinance, I believe to truly foster a culture around local foods as well as small businesses in general, a one-size fits all ordinance for commercial vehicles will NOT work. We need to update the ordinance to work with urban farms, not against. This includes either looking at vehicle size restrictions and situational commercial ventures, or allowing an exception for urban farm vehicles.
· 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?
I will. I think the agricultural zoning code text amendments were a great start to opening up opportunities to an untapped industry. I think that those who worked on these amendments had some tough compromises to make – specifically the 15 market days. However, we do not restrict other business on the number of days they can operate their business. To provide the most options and to make the permit price worthwhile, we need to consider expanding to a full 180 days. From my understanding, those who choose to invest in urban farming are not choosing this line of work to bring in a large profit, and in many cases, folks are losing money. I believe the value farmers bring to their communities and neighborhood, as well as the City as a whole, is worth supporting. We can better support these individuals by lifting financial barriers the current regulations are creating.
Broad vision question:
As a candidate for public office, what would you like the food economy of Minneapolis to look like in 2017?
Our food economy in Minneapolis will be most successful if we allow our urban farmers to create (and retain) a sustainable locally grown food option. If elected to the City Council I will work to increase access to locally grown options through corner stores, working with Homegrown and the Food Council, as well as partnering with private and nonprofit organizations. In addition to facilitating locally grown options within the city limits, we need to think regionally. Although Minnesota is the sixth largest agricultural producer in the country we only consume three percent of our production. Three percent! The work being done within the city can be multiplied if we are able to connect folks regionally. I hope to see the development of urban agriculture food hubs like those in Detroit; where farmers from around the entire metro can come together to begin producing more value added products. There are products that cannot be efficiently or realistically produced within City limits. This “problem” is an opportunity to connect farmers in the 200 mile radius with urban farmers to supplement CSAs and the likes. There is a lot of potential here. I would love to hear your input on this topic.
I also think since this first year, we need to begin tapping into the data collected about how things are going. There are a number of efforts going on through Homegrown, the University of Minnesota, and I am sure other organizations that I am not aware of, but their results can help inform our future steps. I believe the results of this first year will help dispel some of the negative misconceptions surrounding the impact of urban farming on residential neighborhoods. To be clear, I believe in the value added (in every sense) that an urban farm can bring to a city.
• 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?
While I would support such a proposal with appropriate oversight and regulation from supervisory bodies, I would like to conduct more research on what this regulation would look like. I know that concern and opposition to this topic comes from folks worried about unattended animals as well as the potential for slaughter within City limits. While I support allowing the raising of chickens for eggs, I believe that the welfare of both the animals and the resident neighbors of these farms is very important. I welcome additional input on this topic. I want to hear from you!