One crazy summer: Austin’s Urban Farm Code Update

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Phew! What a crazy summer. I didn’t mean to ignore the blog, but we have had a busy, busy couple of months in our corner of the local food world. In case you’ve missed it, I’ve been writing quite a bit for others, including the Beverage and Travel (releases 9/1) issues of Edible Austin and a new-ish gig writing a few times a month for CultureMap. But, the unexpected diversion in the schedule has centered around the City of Austin’s update to the Urban Farm Code.

If you haven’t been following this little soap opera, the City decided it needed to update the Urban Farm Code after a neighbor’s complaint resulted in HausBar Farms being shut down. The City Council tasked the Sustainable Food Policy Board with making recommendations and a working group held a number of public meetings through the spring ending with a list of adjustments that was more than a little confusing and not great for the farms.

I stood at the back of the meeting where the initial recommendations were unveiled and listened to the farmers speak up, in exasperation, about how the changes were going to negatively impact them. It was frustrating to say the least, and didn’t bode well for the farms.  A small, but vocal group is trying to prevent any new urban farms in the City of Austin – zero, zilch, nada. I don’t have to tell you how I feel about this and I’m not going to make their arguments for them. I will say that while I agree that we as a City need to solve problems like affordable housing, that trying to do so by limiting urban farms is misguided and fighting the wrong fight.

Since that meeting, a small group of volunteers (including Lillian and me) have helped the farms host several tours for the board, commission and council members who will vote on this issue, get the word out to the media about what is going on and round up a list of more than 1,000 people who signed up in support of having farms in the city. And, thanks to the tireless efforts of the farmers and a few diligent souls on the Sustainable Food Policy Board working group, they’ve made some progress.

The latest list of recommendations is better than first with less negative impact on the farms. They no longer limit things like school tours (um, duh), let the farm stands sell a limited number of outside items to have more diversity in the stand and allow a limited amount of slaughter for those with meat fowl.

Despite the long weeks of negotiating and revising, the process has really just started. The Sustainable Food Policy Board is the first of four votes that must take place to get the code through final approval. The second stop is the Code & Ordinance committee of the Planning Commission, followed by the entire Planning Commission and, finally, the City Council. At any time in this process, revisions can be made and road blocks can appear.

And that’s the problem. The small group who wants to end urban farming can try to sabotage the negotiations again and they have a tendency to be very loud and very public. That’s where you come in. The farmers need you to speak up in support of urban farms. If you have ever been to Boggy Creek, HausBar, Rain Lily or Springdale farms, bought anything from any of the farms or spent money in any of the countless restaurants that source from them, please, please, please show your support for the farms now.

You can help in one of several ways:

  • Sign up at AustinUrbanFarms.org as supporter of the farms and get everyone else you know to do so as well.
  • Write a nice note (emphasis on nice) to the Sustainable Food Policy Board, Planning Commission and City Council members who will be voting on this issue. You can find their e-mail addresses below and a sample letter here.
  • Show up at one of the meetings and sign up or speak on behalf of the urban farms. The tentative vote schedule (and this keeps changing so stay tuned for updates) is:

August 26th – Sustainable Food Policy Board meeting

September 17th – Code and Ordinance committee of the Planning Commission meeting

September 24th – Planning Commission meeting

October 3rd – City Council meeting

  • If you are really committed to urban farms, have oodles of free time and want to have an impact on the future of sustainable and local food in Austin, apply for one of the open seats on the Sustainable Food Policy Board. There are currently three open seats and a fourth will open up in November. You have to be approved by either the City Council or County Commission (depending on the seat you apply for) so this isn’t something to volunteer for lightly, but you will earn angel’s wings for doing it. If you are interested in serving on the board, contact one of the staff members who works with the board to learn more details.  Not sure what the board does? Review their bylaws for the purpose and rules for the board.

Austin’s local food scene has made amazing progress over the last decade. We not only have more farmers markets, but we have more fresh local food in our schools and at our food bank because of our local farms. It would be a damn shame for anything to slow that down. Please show your support and help us make sure that doesn’t happen.

In the meantime, here are a few photos from the last farm tour. What a treasure we have in these farms.

springdale_eggplant lineup

Springdale farm stand

HausBar Farms Donkey

HausBar Farms Donkey

Bunnies at HausBar Farms

Bunnies at HausBar Farms

Working gloves at Boggy Creek

Working gloves at Boggy Creek

Onions hanging at Boggy Creek

Onions hanging at Boggy Creek

 

Carol Ann Sayle of Boggy Creek

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