UPPER MARLBORO – Farm-fresh food may soon be available a lot closer to home, thanks to new legislation put forth in the county council. Councilwoman Mary Lehman submitted CB-25-2016, which would amend the zoning ordinance and allow urban farms to operate in new areas of the county. “Last year, I was co-proposer, with Councilwomen (Dannielle) […]
UPPER MARLBORO – Farm-fresh food may soon be available a lot closer to home, thanks to new legislation put forth in the county council.
Councilwoman Mary Lehman submitted CB-25-2016, which would amend the zoning ordinance and allow urban farms to operate in new areas of the county.
“Last year, I was co-proposer, with Councilwomen (Dannielle) Glaros and (Karen) Toles, of a bill providing tax credits for urban farming. That’s when we realized urban farming wasn’t permitted in residential zones and we would need a bill to amend the zoning ordinance to allow for it,” she said.
Lehman said she enlisted the help of outside groups in drafting the language of the bill.
Program Director for the Prince George’s County Food Equity Council (FEC) Sydney Daigle said the group’s involvement began last fall, when it worked with Lehman on the urban agriculture property tax credit. This bill would enable more residents to receive that credit, Daigle said.
“We’re hoping this legislation, by expanding the definition of urban farming in the county, and the zones in which it can take place, will open up more opportunities for residents to take advantage of the urban agriculture property tax credit,” she said.
Currently, the definition for urban farms is limited to those run by nonprofit organizations. The bill would expand that definition to include any organization or individual who wishes to cultivate flowers, fruits, vegetables or beehives on their property and sell the products of that effort. It does not, however, permit the keeping of livestock, including chickens.
“This bill recognizes urban farming as an important economic development tool for the county. In addition to creating economic opportunity, it also increases residents’ access to fresh, nutritious, sustainably and locally-grown foods within their communities,” Daigle said. “We’re really excited about this definition and this legislation.”
Lehman said economic development and food benefits are only some of the positives expanded urban agriculture could bring to the county.
“Advantages for Prince George’s include health benefits for residents; educational opportunities for people, young and old, who want to learn to work the land; ecological benefits and the economic stimulus for farmers who can sell their crops to retailers or neighbors,” she said.
Other county agencies will also be involved in the urban farming business. An aspiring urban farmer would be required to get a permit from the county health department if fruits and/or vegetables are to be cut up and sold, or used in prepared foods that are sold, to the public. Additionally, all urban farms must cooperate with the Soil Conservation District (SCD) and operate under a farm management plan approved by the SCD.
Steve Darcey, executive director of the Prince George’s County Soil Conservation District, said his agency was pleased to be a partner in bringing more urban farms to the county.
“We’re the one-on-one, boots on the ground agency for farmers, so they wanted us to be involved. It’s just an extension of what we already do, and we’re very happy to work with Councilwoman Lehman’s group,” he said.
That farm management plan would address best practices in areas such as crop sequencing, economic and engineering factors and more to address soil conservation, water quality, nutrient management and runoff.
“We want to keep topsoil in place and manage nutrient runoff, especially nitrogen and phosphorous,” Darcey said.
Council Vice-Chair Glaros and Councilman Todd Turner have signed on as co-sponsors of the measure.
“I am pleased that we are looking at opportunities to expand small-scale farming in urban areas similar to Eco-City farm in Edmonston,” Glaros said. “Access to fresh food is important to growing our local economy and expanding food options for all.”
Turner also highlighted the importance of increased food options.
“CB-25-2016 seeks to expand the opportunity for farming in the county in designated areas under strict criteria to focus on the development of healthy food alternatives for our residents,” he said.
Urban farms in the R-80 and R-55 zones would also be restricted to five acres used for that purpose and be required to keep the premises clear of litter, dead or diseased plants, and prevent “noxious odors or dust” from leaving the premises. Signage is also regulated, with the bill stipulating that identification signs – limit one per property – must be 60 square inches in area or smaller. Additional signs educating visitors about urban farming are permitted, however. In the R-18 zone, only way-finding and directional signs are permitted.
Lehman said other jurisdictions already allow urban agriculture.
“Baltimore City and Montgomery County allow urban agriculture and there has been a growing movement nationwide, which is very exciting,” she said. “Urban farming ties all these things together and makes for more dynamic, sustainable communities.”
The measure has been referred to the planning, zoning and economic development committee, for a hearing. Daigle said the FEC will be working to organize residents to testify in the bill’s favor.
“We feel like the bill is strong, and a lot of stakeholder input was considered when it was drafted so we think it has a good chance of making it out of committee,” Daigle said.