Gung-ho for gardening in Minneapolis

Print

Are you gung-ho for gardening and frustrated that the city won’t let you put raised garden beds in the front yard, or do you look down the street and wonder whether your neighbor spends more money growing the produce he gives away, than he would spend if he just bought it at the store? (Or are you somewhere in between?)

Minneapolis city planners and other interested parties have, over the last several months, developed an Urban Agriculture Policy Plan and offer it for written public comment before January 31. They’re hoping to make it easier to get fresh produce to all parts of the city, to see healthier, thinner people, new jobs and other benefits, like reducing dependence on food sources thousands of miles away.

Who was it who said, (paraphrasing) “the best thing government can do is get out of the way, so people can do for themselves?” When it comes to gardening and farming in the city and selling fresh produce, there are many things the city can do to get out of the way, according to the Urban Ag plan.

  Farming in your neighborhood? Could it happen?

A Land Capacity Analysis by Community Attributes International shows there’s a good possibility for garden-eligible land in North and Northeast Minneapolis. The study says there’s 661 to 914 extra acres of land in Minneapolis not needed for in demand for immediate development or redevelopment of other sorts.

Of that, 211 acres or 27 percent of the city’s total is in the “East” zone (Northeast, Mid-City Industrial Area, Marcy Holmes and Cedar-Riverside) and 178 acres or 24 percent of the city’s total is in North Minneapolis. South, Downtown, and Southwest sectors have 16, 17, and 18 percent of the eligible land, respectively.

The study looked at demands for other kinds of development, directing that development largely to constructing multi-family housing in otherwise commercial areas. So farming uses would go in low-density single family and industrial areas. Market gardens, which would be like community gardens, are intended for single family areas, and more intense farming operations would go in industrial or some commercial areas.

The 661 acre figure is based on “trends” – what’s actually happened recently in the amount of land per job or per housing unit produced, and the 914 acre figure is based on what would happen if each new development maxed out the number of jobs or housing units per acre allowed by zoning codes (more dense than developers have been building recently).

About half the city’s eligible surplus land (held privately or by government, the study did not differentiate) is in parcels greater than 20,000 square feet (about five city lots combined). Neighborhoods or areas where those parcels exist are: Hawthorne, Bryn Mawr from Penn eastward, some of North Loop, Bottineau, Windom Park, Windom in far south Minneapolis west of the freeway, and an area near Walker Library.

The Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, which uses the Land Capacity Analysis, also suggests that the planting of produce be encouraged as part of the required landscaping in new developments, and that farmers markets and community gardens be considered for inclusion into requests for proposals for new development on City-owned parcels, particularly in underserved areas.

   

What do the items in the plan mean to the average resident? If everything catches hold, you may see:

• “Market gardens” in a variety of zoning districts, including low-density residential. That means a farmer could use vacant land in a residential neighborhood to grow crops for sale at a farmer’s market. The code would set a maximum lot area and design standards similar to those established for community gardens so that they would fit in with the neighborhood.

• Front yard planting beds, now prohibited by front yard setback requirements, would be allowed (maximum height and minimum setback to be determined), and trellises for growing food would be provided for.

• If you want to turn your home garden into a moneymaker, it would be allowed as a home occupation. (Currently, “outside operations” are not allowed.)

• Market gardens could spring up on rooftops as well as on the ground in residential neighborhoods, and could only be located on rooftops in high density areas like downtown, “growth centers and activity centers.” Urban farms would be allowed in some industrial and commercial areas.

• Community gardens could have larger signage, larger hoop houses, and periodically sell produce. What’s a hoop house? A greenhouse-like structure that allows earlier planting and later harvesting than normal outside conditions.

• If you or your neighbors want a hoop house, there would be specific standards for it.

Currently, you’re limited to a certain number of square feet for “accessory structures” on your property. If you have a two-car garage at 24×24 feet, you’re now limited to a 10×10 hoop house and no sheds, if you have no garage you could technically have a 24×24 foot hoop house and a 10×10 shed.

The Urban Ag plan lives at CPED (the City’s Community Planning and Economic Development department). CPED, for $50,000, commissioned a land capacity analysis by a team from Seattle, Community Attributes International, which determined that Minneapolis has plenty of land available “to meet redevelopment demands for many years to come. In addition, there are opportunities to reduce the public cost of holding land by leasing or selling it for growing,” the Urban Ag Plan states.

So the Plan encourages the CPED and the Public Works department to review the land they own and “consider selling or leasing more parcels that are not desirable for development but are well-suited for urban agriculture.”

The City tried this in a small way with limited success last season. The 2010 Community Garden Pilot Program required non-profit organizations to apply, pay $1 for the lease, $25 for processing, a $250 refundable deposit, and provide insurance for a limited time lease, one year, expandable to three or five. Each lot was tested for pollutants and deemed safe.

According to the map in the pilot report, four sites were leased, one in North Minneapolis, one in Northeast and two in South Minneapolis. Eighteen parcels were available. The program was announced in March and the first lease written a month later. The Urban Ag plan suggests advertising the remaining parcels one more time, possibly adding more in underserved areas, revisiting the fee structure for leasing, and considering outright sale.

In a report on the pilot, it was noted that there was significant interest by individual farmers looking for land (market gardens). There were 50 inquiries overall, 18 consultations, 8 site plans submitted, and five total leases written, the report said. Most of those who didn’t follow through cited the cost of the deposit and insurance (naming the city as additional insured on a $2 million policy).

CPED sees urban agriculture offering “economic benefits to the City through the creation of small businesses and value-added food chains,” the report states. “Value-added” means processing fresh food to preserve it for future use and/or make it more palatable, such as turning fresh tomatoes into salsa or sauce. So, the plan recommends supporting the Homegrown Minneapolis Business Development Center, which is in the city’s budget but has not launched yet. And, the plan recommends analyzing market demands and economic impacts of urban agriculture and related business concepts.

The plan references the “food desert” in North Minneapolis (areas without fresh food options within walking distance reasonably priced). But, as only a land use plan, it deliberately does not tackle ideas for creating more individual desire for and understanding of healthy food.

The plan references “10 other interventions,” other projects that Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Services is implementing with its SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) funds. They include improving nutrition in schools, child care settings and convenience stores; and changing health care providers’ assessment, counseling and referral for patients who want to quit smoking or achieve healthy weight. A complete list of Minneapolis projects is at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/dhfs/ship.asp
The Urban Ag report’s chief author, city planner Amanda Arnold, said after the plan is reviewed and edited, the recommended policy changes if adopted will be drafted into zoning code language and acted upon by the Planning Commission and City Council.

Other policies and practices will be reviewed over approximately the next year. The plan, for which $150,000 was budgeted (including the $50,000 for the land capacity analysis), appears to be coming in “under budget,” Arnold said.

According to Arnold, “the availability of the plan was advertised through a series of press releases.  It’s also advertised on the City’s main webpage and a notice went to all neighborhood groups and to the Homegrown Minneapolis email distribution list that has 250-plus names on it.”

*************

Where to get the Urban Ag Plan, and how to comment:
The Urban Agriculture Policy Plan, with supporting documents, and a link to the Homegrown Minneapolis progress report are online at: www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cped/urban_ag_plan.asp

Printed copies are available to review on site at: Public Service Center, 250 4th St. S, Rm 110; and Minneapolis Central Public Library, 300 Nicollet Mall; Hosmer Library, 347 E. 36th St. and Pierre Bottineau Library, 55 Broadway St., NE.

Upcoming Community Meetings:
Two community meetings will be held to discuss the content of the plan. These meetings will be Tuesday, Jan. 11, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Sabathani Community Center (3rd Floor), 310 E. 38th Street; and Thursday, Jan. 20, 2-3:30 p.m. at North Regional Library, 1315 Lowry Ave. N.

Comments and concerns about the plan should be directed in writing to:
Amanda Arnold, Principal Planner, Minneapolis Department of Community Planning & Economic Development, Planning Division, 250 S Fourth St., Rm 110, Minneapolis, MN 55415; or by email to amanda.arnold@ci.minneapolis.mn.us

You can also submit feedback by responding to a short survey about the plan at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/UrbanAgPlanSurvey

[Editor’s Note: the short survey is very short, and asks basically “do you or do you not support the plan” with no breakdown of sections. I would recommend those who want to make extended comments prepare their comments before going through the survey, or simply submit them in writing to Amanda Arnold.]

According to the City’s website, “All comments will become part of the public record and be included in a report that will be forwarded to the City Planning Commission when they consider the adoption of the plan. A public hearing is tentatively set for Feb. 22 in City Hall, Room 317, during the City Planning Commission meeting. After adoption by the City Planning Commission, the plan will be forwarded to the City Council for adoption and will be amended to the Comprehensive Plan.”