Interest in urban agriculture is growing, given the desire for locally grown food and reuse of vacant land. However, most urban Planning Commissions have not considered agricultural uses in their ordinances and plans. In addition, there are many urban farming uses in existence today that most commissioners (and many planners) have never even contemplated.

Megan Masson-Minock of ENP worked in 2008-2009 with the City of Flint to evaluate and amend the legal framework to support urban agriculture. The impetus for this project relates to both the desire to allow for locally grown, healthy food and the desire to stabilize the significant amounts of vacant land in the City.

Our work on this issue in Flint has led us to categorize eight types of urban agricultural uses, each with their own sets of benefits and challenges:

  • Side lot residential gardens – A vacant lot adjacent to a residential lot used by individual residents for gardening. The food is consumed by the growers.
  • Block group gardens – Gardens used by the surrounding residents to grow food for use by only those residents in the block.
  • Community gardens – Gardened by a group of people, not necessarily in the neighborhood, they are typically owned in trust by local governments or nonprofits. Plots are tended individually or in a communal fashion.
  • Market gardens – Small-scale production of fruits, vegetables & flowers (between less than 1 acre and a few acres). Products are sold by the growers directly to consumers in the area.
  • Urban homesteads – Property in the City where households grow food on their property with the goal of being self sufficient.
  • Urban farms – Agricultural or aqua-cultural activities for commercial production of farm products. These farms are often hydroponic, utilizing raised beds and irrigation systems and are often located inside buildings.
  • Keeping of animals for food, including chickens, goats, and bees.
  • Phytoremediation – the use of plants to clean pollution in the environment. This could also include the growing of bio-fuels for energy production.

When looking at these land uses, communities must consider things such as: where will these uses be permitted (if at all)?; what restrictions should be placed on the uses?; what are the impacts if structures (such as hoophouses) are involved?; and what procedures do we make these uses adhere to (i.e. special land uses? site plans?).

For more information on planning and zoning for urban agriculture please contact Megan Masson-Minock, or read the article she co-authored on ENP’s work in Flint in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development soon to be available at http://www.agdevjournal.com.