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Growing Issues: Burlington's Urban Ag Task Force Seeks Feedback On Its Draft Report


Published July 9, 2012 at 3:01 p.m.

Want to raise alpacas on Peru Street? How about cherry trees on Washington Street, or goats on Grant Street? If you're an urban farmer, gardener, beekeeper or tender of livestock within Burlington city limits — or want to be — the Urban Agriculture Task Force wants your feedback ASAP.

Last week, the Urban Agriculture Task Force released its long-awaited draft report of recommendations to the Burlington City Council on how it should manage and regulate the interests and needs of residents who raise food within the Queen City. The 70-page report is chock full of advice and recommendations for dealing with the needs and interests of Burlington residents, such as master gardeners Michael Rooney and Susan Dorn (right), whose urban farming — in their case, unpermitted hoophouses — conflict with neighbors' aesthetic desires and local zoning ordinances.

City council created the citizen-led task force in March 2011 in order to study issues of urban ag and provide policy recommendations for raising livestock, composting, farming and community gardens. For years, the council has heard growing complaints about conflicts over greenbelt veggie patches, crowing roosters and how many pigs or sheep are appropriate in the backyard of a two-bedroom duplex. Rather than addressing each of these problems piecemeal, the council opted to take a more holistic approach to urban agriculture.

After months of public meetings at neighborhood planning assemblies, the result is a comprehensive report whose overarching message seeks to accommodate and encourage more food production in the city, while also promoting sound environmental practices. public safety and the humane treatment and slaughter of animals. The report also includes examples of successful ordinances and programs adopted in other cities around the country.

Among the report's key recommendations:

  • Revise Burlington's zoning ordinance to accommodate and promote more urban agriculture.
  • Establish a "Burlington City Food Office," run by a city food coordinator who reports directly to the mayor, to coordinate and implement these and other citywide goals.
  • Open up public land to urban farming and animal husbandry, emphasizing sustainable and organic practices.
  • Incorporate urban agriculture into the city's long-term planning, such as adding incentives for developers who incorporate urban agriculture features into new designs.
  • Streamline the permitting process for agricultural structures such as barns, greenhouses, pens, coops, etc.
  • Increase the acreage of community gardens, especially in under-served neighborhoods.
  • Develop a mediation mechanism for resolving conflicts as they arise.
  • Encourage urban beekeeping and rooftop gardening, including in the downtown core.
  • Adopt a "livestock welfare ordinance" for regulating the humane treatment and slaughter of animals.
  • Adopt a citywide "food charter" or mission statement that spells out the city's overarching food goals.

Will Robb, who chairs the Urban Agriculture Task Force, emphasizes that the report doesn't just seek to solve problems entirely through new rules and regulations. Some policy goals can be implemented simply through increased public education and outreach, others through better cooperation between agencies of government and other organizations, such as nonprofits and colleges. As he puts it, "We really tried to pick the right tool for the job."

Robb says that one of the "wilder ideas" included in the report is the suggestion to create a greenway across the rooftop of the Burlington Town Center Mall where the public could have community gardens. Another potentially controversial idea would require a community garden component in all new housing developments.

"I think that gardening spaces should be on parity with parking spaces," Robb says. "Eating is at least as important as driving."

The Urban Agriculture Task Force will hold an informational session to discuss these and other recommendations tonight (Monday, July 9) at 6:30 p.m. at the McClure MultiGen Center on North Winooski Avenue. Public comments can also be submitted online here. Print copies of the draft report can be viewed at the reference desk at the Fletcher Free Library and at the Burlington Permaculture Library, located in Muddy Waters coffee shop on Main Street. Public comment will be open until July 18. 

File photo by Andy Bromage.