COMMUNITY VOICES | 2013 Minneapolis Urban Farmers Collaborative candidate questionnaire: Sandy Colvin-Roy, Ward 12

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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 Sandy Colvin-Roy, candidate for Minneapolis City Council Ward 12 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, in some locations. Chickens have been integrated into city life at individual homes with few complaints and it appears that urban farms would have a better chance of achieving financial sustainability with a year-round production such as eggs. Plus, fresh eggs that didn’t need to take a long ride in order to get to the customers would be 2 good things. A third party to check on animal welfare/health, which would benefit everyone, is a good one. I don’t think that the city’s Animal Care & Control staff should perform this function.

• 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?

I am working with urban farmers, colleagues and city staff now to find ways (they may vary, depending on the size of the farm) to provide reliable and affordable access to city water. Any home gardener in Minneapolis pays for the water to produce their food, so the question of cost assistance is not a blanket yes. We are looking for a reasonable policy to advance two city goals – more local food and more land to handle rainwater where it falls. Organic practices that would protect water quality are an important consideration.

• 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 could support a pilot program for leasing publicly owned land for urban farming in order to provide the longevity needed to make farming practical, with the caveat that it must fit with the local neighborhood goals. Most of our communities have spent significant time thinking about land use and developing plans; there may be a need for reconsideration with urban farming in mind, but it should involve the neighborhood. As Council member Gordon has said, there may be a misperception about how much land the city holds; but looking at what we have through the lens of providing food would be productive.

• 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?

This question highlights the difficulties of meeting the needs of everyone who shares our fifty-five square miles of city space. Many complaints from residents have come to my office over the years about on-street parking of work vehicles from residents. I would support a community wide conversation, and this really needs to involve a lot of people, about what might be changed. Law would probably not allow, for instance, a practice for some types of businesses and not others but it might be possible to devise to size parameters.

• 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. We started cautiously last year with ordinance and policy changes to increase food production in our city. Now it is time to adjust the rules to make more sense (as the question points out, how could someone predict when the tomatoes will ripen?) I will support and end to requiring the dates of sale be identified at the beginning of the season, expanding the number of sale dates allowed and allowing sale of produce from multiple farm sites. I am ready to get this done for this year’s growing season.

Broad vision question:

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

In 2017 I want to see financially viable urban farming with sustainable practices that enhance our urban environment. The city will be a part of establishing a market for the produce through our buying power. Partnerships between the food producers and any organizations that work with young people will connect more kids in our city with the actual growing of food, from preparing the soil to harvest and cooking. Ideally, some will even earn money this way, opening their eyes to another possible occupation.

My very personal wish is that we can have tomatoes that ripen near enough to our restaurants that they can serve us the fruit in the red and flavorful condition we now only enjoy late-July through September in our homes and a few places that adhere to local-sourcing. This would not only improve the nutrition and enjoyment of a favorite food, it would mean less transportation and all of the energy use/pollution issues that go with it.

Urban farming and marketing of the food will be another way in which Minneapolis is nationally recognized as a city that views and values our sustainability holistically, an approach that increasingly attracts people to our city. The marketing of food is another great opportunity to provide the connectivity Minneapolis residents enjoy through localized festive farmers’ markets that connect growers directly with their consumers, farmers’ markets that connect growers directly with their consumers.