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 Cam Gordon, current council-memmber and candidate for the Ward 2 seat.
Q: Do you as a candidate support allowing chickens as livestock at urban farms?
A: Yes, provided that there are appropriate care standards.
First, I should share some of my values. I am a vegetarian, and I care deeply about animal welfare, both in Minneapolis and more broadly. I do not want to make changes to the law that will result in more animals being mistreated. I believe that responsible local farmers are actually more likely to raise chickens in a humane, ecologically-friendly way than the large industrial agriculture companies that produce most of the eggs on the market today. As long as we continue to eat eggs from chickens, we should shift that consumption to smaller, more local, more sustainable and more humane producers, and I believe urban farmers fit that bill.
I also understand that adding chickens to an urban farm can help with the sustainability of the farm, both environmentally and financially. I hear that chicken manure composts well, aids the composting of other materials, and becomes a valuable amendment to depleted soil – which is what we mostly have in the city, unfortunately. I have led the City’s effort to get the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to allow manure from fowl in small composting sites, submitting a letter on my own and working to incorporate this into the City’s formal position on the MPCA’s proposed composting rule changes. It also makes sense that eggs are a high value product that is more steadily available throughout the year, and adding them to a farm can help a farmer smooth out the income fluctuations from vegetables and actually make a living. These are all important, worthwhile goals and reasons why allowing chickens on urban farms is good public policy.
My long standing involvement in the Homegrown Minneapolis effort and on the Minneapolis Food Council has caused me to give this some thought. Currently, Minneapolis licenses all chickens under our “companion animal” ordinance. There is no license for “food animals.” Additionally, the Zoning Code currently only allows chickens accessory to residences, not market gardens or urban farms. I am open to changing both of these laws.
There are at least two options for changing the animal code. The first is to create a new City animal permit for food animals. Because many urban farms would likely have more chickens than most residents, I think we could structure the fee in such a way that the per-bird cost is lower. If we create a City food animal permit, I would support having an inspection by City staff at least once per year; people paying for permits should get some services for their money, and I want to ensure that the care standards for the birds are adequate. Alternatively, the City could enter into a partnership with an outside group, such as Animal Welfare Approved, to inspect each urban farm with chickens and ensure that the care for the birds is adequate.
To change the Zoning Code will be more straightforward: we simply need to add chickens and their related structures (coops, etc.) as permitted uses accessory to urban farms and possibly market gardens. At this point, I do not support changing the City’s charter to allow live slaughter in Minneapolis. I believe that there is some consensus around allowing chickens as egg producing animals in Minneapolis, but I do not see the same consensus around allowing any animal to be slaughtered and used for meat in Minneapolis.
I want to be clear that this change, even without slaughter, is likely to be controversial. There are good people whom I respect and with whom I have worked on policy changes (like the attempt to ban circuses with animals from Minneapolis) who will likely have concerns about this initiative. It would be my hope to bring farmers, animal welfare/rights advocates and others together to achieve a win-win, if possible, in which care standards for chickens all over the city are increased, while allowing urban farmers to incorporate chickens into their farms.
Q: 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?
A: Yes. The City has had a history of providing water to community gardens, and we should broaden this to helping support market gardeners and urban farmers as well. I don’t know that it will be feasible for agricultural users to receive free water from the City, but I am open to exploring ways to reduce the cost, perhaps create a flat fee structure or offer some relief for all or some market gardeners and urban farmers, especially for those farmers who use organic and sustainable fertilizing, herbicide-free and pesticide-free farming practices. My understanding is that currently, community gardens get a season’s worth of water from City hydrants at a flat rate. I could see putting in place a similar deal for commercial urban farmers, possibly with different flat rates based on the size of the farm.
Q: Do you as a candidate support creating a city pilot program for leasing public lands for urban farming?
A: Yes. Currently, the City makes a number of plots available only to community gardens. I believe that these lots should be opened up to urban farmers and market gardeners as well. New plots that become available should be offered first for community gardens and then made available to urban farmers.
I do want to make clear that the City owns less land than I think people assume. When the City condemns and tears down a structure on a particular parcel, that land does not necessarily become City property. As Stone’s Throw, California Street and other local urban farms have shown, the majority of land that will be farmed in Minneapolis is likely to be privately owned.
Q: 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 is one impact of a longstanding prohibition on commercial vehicle parking in residential areas. All commercial vehicles – taxis, limos, contractors’ trucks, all the way up to semis – are banned from parking in residential areas. I can understand where this prohibition came from. There is limited on-street parking available in many residential neighborhoods, especially in higher-density areas. Some commercial vehicles offend the aesthetic sensibilities of some residents. And it was believed that commercial uses could and should contain their operations, storing vehicles and other equipment in commercial or industrial areas, preferably on their own property. I want to be clear that my office has used this prohibition to address legitimate resident complaints about semis not only being parked but idling for hours on residential streets, mostly in the Seward neighborhood. This law is helpful in addressing real issues, and I want to preserve some capacity to prohibit the largest commercial vehicles from residential areas.
But I believe that the time for an outright ban on all commercial vehicles, regardless of size, has passed. This is not only an issue for urban farmers.
I hear regularly from taxi drivers who live in my ward, many if not most of whom are independent contractors who must store their cabs on their own, that this law causes them problems. I have one constituent who lives in Prospect Park who only has one vehicle – his cab – and has no off-street parking at his home. He therefore cannot park at his own home.
I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s fair for urban farmers to grow food on a residential lot but not park on the street in front of it. Remember: commercial food growing was completely prohibited in Minneapolis from the mid ‘60s until 2012. Now, in addition to people working as barbers and accountants in our residential neighborhoods, we can now legally have urban farmers working on residential lots.
I also believe that our society’s relationship with cars must evolve and is (slowly) evolving. We simply cannot all continue to drive single-occupancy vehicles everywhere we want to go, if we are to have any hope of stabilizing the climate on our planet. We must build a city in which people can meet their daily needs without absolutely requiring a car – through better land use, better bicycle and pedestrian networks, and better public transit. I hope that in the years to come, the ubiquity of cars and the expectation that every household will have (at least!) one car will begin to change to a new model. I hope we will see much more sharing of cars, both through established car-sharing companies and through more informal relationships between people. As these good, necessary changes start to take hold, I am hoping that the parking demand in our neighborhoods will lessen, and make easing prohibitions like this one both more necessary and more popular.
I would support a proposal to allow all types of commercial vehicles under a certain size – including pickups and full-size vans, but continuing to prohibit semis and large fixed-axle trucks – to legally park on residential streets.
Q: 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?
A: Absolutely. As the author of the urban agriculture zoning code text amendments in spring of 2012, I can tell you that the current state of the code on farmstands is a compromise down from a compromise, and it needs to be changed.
In order to take the major step of once again allowing commercial food growing in Minneapolis, we had to tread cautiously. I don’t think it’s any secret that some people were not particularly supportive of the whole concept behind the Urban Ag plan and resulting zoning code changes. There was – and continues to be – a number of residents and policymakers who believe that food growing belongs in the country, can never work in the city, will have major detrimental effects on nearby residents, etc. Planning staff and the advocates for this change – both on the Council and in the community – had to work in that context, and the zoning code changes we made were more restrictive than we wanted.
Nowhere was this clearer than on farmstands. From my perspective, a farmstand should be a permitted accessory use at any market garden or urban farm. Farmers shouldn’t even have to get a temporary use permit. Staff took a more cautious approach, and brought forward the idea that farmstands should be allowed, but only for 25 days per year, and only with a temporary use permit. I accepted this compromise.
Some of my colleagues objected to allowing 25 days, and I agreed to a scale it back to 15 days, with the idea that this was a small first step, and we could come back later and give farmers more leeway.
We now have a growing season under our belt, and a few things are clear. We haven’t gotten a community outcry against farmstands at market gardens. In a meaningful sense, I believe the community and its elected representatives, is actually more supportive of urban agriculture than before.
And the limitations on farmstands have been onerous enough that farmers have not been able to work with them. Farmers don’t know in advance on what particular days their zucchini or tomatoes will ripen. Fifteen days are simply not enough. And those farms that are an aggregation of multiple smaller lots – like Stone’s Throw – want to be able to sell tomatoes from one lot at the farmstand on another a few blocks away.
And remember: some of the areas in which farmers are growing food are the very places that most desperately need access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables. It seems very strange to me that the City government would simultaneously work to increase food access with one hand and effectively prohibit food access with the other hand.
This is something I am already planning to take on. I feel it is one of the unfinished pieces of the urban ag text amendments. I will be authoring an ordinance to make this change this year. I plan to introduce that ordinance within the month.
I will push for lifting the requirement for farmstands to have a temporary use permit entirely, as my opening position. I believe that a farmer should be able to sell directly to the public from their site, and the City has no compelling interest in regulating that activity. We can address most, if not all, of the potential issues that might arise through careful standards around where a farmstand can be located on a property, how long it can be left up (not overnight, for instance), etc.
If we must have a temporary use permit in order for my colleagues to support the change, I will push for farmers to be allowed an unlimited number of days within the growing and harvest seasons, and for the produce from other sites controlled by each farmer to be eligible to sell at a particular farmstand. My goal is to pass this zoning code change in 2013.
Broad vision question:
Q: As a candidate for public office, what would you like the food economy of Minneapolis to look like in 2017?
I have tremendous hope for the local food movement. It fits with many of my core values, the 10 Key Values of the Green Party: ecological wisdom, social and economic justice, decentralization, community-based economics, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and future focus.
I want to live in a City in which every resident has affordable, convenient access to healthy foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables. I want people to make a sustainable living as participants in the local food economy: growing many different kinds of food; processing and preserving food to add value; preparing food as caterers, restaurateurs, and more; and composting food waste to increase the health of our soil. I want our farmers markets and all of the vendors at them to thrive. I hope to see enough community gardens to meet the needs of anyone who wants to be part of them, and to see more people choosing to grow food in their own yards and learning how to do so in more healthy and efficient ways. I hope to see farmers growing food in all sorts of creative, unexpected ways, from mushrooms in old industrial buildings to vegetables on the roofs of buildings and parking ramps, vines along walls and fruit and nut trees throughout the city.
I want every City-licensed grocery store to be a place where customers can find healthy, nourishing foods, including a good selection of fresh fruits and vegetables. I want the City itself to adopt a local food purchasing policy, to ensure that when we spend money on food at the Convention Center and elsewhere, we are keeping those dollars circulating in the local economy. I want to see the remaining obstacles the City has erected to local food businesses’ success – from the onerous bee licensing requirements to the prohibition on “limited production” in commercial areas that hurts small breweries and others – taken away. I want new business types, such as mobile farmers markets and grocery stores, to be allowed to start up. I want our economic development staff to continue to find ways to better support small businesses in the local food economy. I want the City to allow small-scale composting cooperatives in our residential areas and medium-scale composting and anaerobic digesting in our industrial areas, and collect organic waste separately for every household, to get it returned to the soil rather than burned as garbage.
In addition to wanting more access to good food, I want the City to start addressing the ubiquitous availability of non-nourishing, toxic food.
Artificial trans fats can hardly be described as food, and clearly do great harm to our population. Sugar (or corn syrup) sweetened beverages contribute too many of the calories the average person consumes each day. The City should no longer be neutral on these real public health issues, just as we took the right, health-protective stand against smoking in bars and restaurants.
There are other unhealthy, unsustainable practices regarding food that the City can help address as well. Food grown without artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers that have broad-reaching negative impacts on our environment – from the dead zone in the Mississippi Delta to colony collapse disorder – should be the norm in our society. Food from other parts of the world should be traded fairly at every point in the chain, from grower to consumer. And food workers – growers, workers in processing plants, and workers in all food-based businesses – should be treated fairly and paid livable wages. I also want to live in a region that does a better job feeding itself.
Minneapolis can grow much more food than we do, but even under the most optimistic scenario we will be unlikely to be able to feed ourselves, especially as the population continues to grow. We need to rebuild the connection we once had to the farmland near our city, and help protect that farmland from redevelopment as low-density housing. Community Supported Agriculture, the farmers markets, and local produce purchasing by some grocery stores (like the coops) are a good start, but we must do more. The Counties and Metropolitan Council have roles to play in this, but Minneapolis must also be willing to advocate for policies that protect peri-urban farmland.
I have been honored to be part of the urban agriculture movement, participating in the first, “community” phase of Homegrown Minneapolis, co-chairing the second, “City” phase, and joining the Food Council for the ongoing work of Homegrown. I have been proud to author many of the changes to Minneapolis ordinances that have grown out of Homegrown’s work, on farmers markets, compost, the Urban Ag text amendments, staple foods and more. I am excited to continue this incredibly important work.
Lastly, I want to thank the urban agriculture community for its years of smart, constructive, savvy advocacy, including this questionnaire. Minneapolis would not be as good for local food as it is today without your efforts. Your participation in this year’s election will help put these important questions at the forefront of issues to be addressed by candidates and considered by voters when making their decisions. I hope to work with a much more local-food friendly Council next term due to your great work. Keep it up.