COMMUNITY VOICES | 2013 Minneapolis Urban Farmers Collaborative candidate questionnaire: Mayoral candidate Betsy Hodges

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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 Betsy Hodges, candidate for Minneapolis mayor.

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 urbanresidents 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?

Short answer: Yes

Longer answer: Two key issues create pushback here – care standards and security. To successfully allow chickens as livestock we as a city would need to make sure the care standards are even higher than they are now. We would also need to make sure there was significant regulation, which may mean a community partnership of some sort and a better cost model for inspections to make up for stretched budgets at the city.

Because no one is there at all times at an urban farm, securing the chickens to protect them and neighbors is crucial. We would have to have standards for that, as well.

  ·      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?

Short answer: Yes

Longer answer: I know there are a few models for water access to urban farms around the country. I don’t know which makes most sense here in Minneapolis, but I do know I support access to water for farms in Minneapolis. The city assistance could be in the form of a flat rate or a non-residential rate, and could be combined with credits for stormwater management.  

·      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?

Short answer: yes

Longer answer: Access to land is key for strong urban agricultural environment. I know that CPED has compiled a list of land that could be available for community gardens (because they are not appropriate for other uses). Those plots are a good first place to turn for farmland and for hammering out new kinds of leasing arrangements. Coordinating with the Park Board on their urban agricultural work is important as well.  

·      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?

Short answer: Possibly

Longer answer: As it relates to urban farming, I would support consideration of allowing work vehicles to be parked on the street. But it is one piece of a much larger conversation that involves all work vehicles. Taxi cabs and construction trucks would be a much larger consideration in the conversation, and an ordinance that covers all of them would have an impact on neighborhoods. I think we should explore some kind of permit/variance process for work vehicles that don’t have other options and a where hardship could be established for not being allowed to park on the street.  

·      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?

Short answer: Yes

Longer answer: Our current rule of fifteen pre-selected days at $150 a pop per site is ridiculous. We should increase the number of days per week, let alone per season, and make those days flexible. We should consider creating a seasonal permit based on a site plan and have complaint-based enforcement.  

Broad vision question:  

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

Specific answer:

In 2017:

1) Minneapolis will not only have gotten out of the way of the success of urban agriculture in the city, we will be assisting it. We will have flexible regulations that facilitate urban farming for entrepreneurs. We will allow and encourage sales, we will facilitate permitting, and we will provide support to these small businesses.

2) We will continue to encourage and support urban farms to add significant education and outreach programs, providing benefits like youth employment and training opportunities (e.g., STEP UP participation)

3) Minneapolis will also encourage other aspects of our food economy:

a. We will consider allowing mobile markets, to meet the needs of an array of communities;
b. We will continue to have and increase thoughtful, flexible policies related to backyard gardening and small-scale animal husbandry;
c. We will work to encourage more use of community gardening space and partner with associated programs and supports, expanding even further our vision for them as a food source, a way to capture the traditional farming knowledge of community elders, and access to food production for people whose access to capital will initially limit entrepreneurship; and
d. We will update the staple foods ordinance to reflect current standards

General answer:

My vision for Minneapolis is that of a prosperous, unified city that works. Urban agriculture fits into every part of that vision.

Prosperity will come through urban farming as a growing economic sector that creates local jobs and keeps dollars flowing within the community. Urban farming also increases that certain something that makes Minneapolis such a livable city and thus brings more people here – greenspace, access to local food, and the reassurance of knowing Minneapolis is preparing for the effects of climate change while also reducing its spread.

Unity comes as urban farming can address more nimbly than other strategies the issues of food deserts and food swamps that create unequal access to healthy, local food options for many residents. Coupled with a robust community garden network, farmer markets, and other strategies of Homegrown Minneapolis, our local food economy will be a key component of addressing opportunity gaps in our most distressed neighborhoods.

And the city will be working when we govern in ways that make sure our urban farms are integrated into our economy, our neighborhoods and our way of life.