EAST RIVERDALE – County agents want residents to know about resources and procedures created to spur the development of urban farming in Prince George’s County. Held at the Center for Educational Partnership on Nov. 2, the Urban Farm Initiative Kickoff served as an orientation for longtime farmers interested in transitioning to urban farming, as well […]
EAST RIVERDALE – County agents want residents to know about resources and procedures created to spur the development of urban farming in Prince George’s County.
Held at the Center for Educational Partnership on Nov. 2, the Urban Farm Initiative Kickoff served as an orientation for longtime farmers interested in transitioning to urban farming, as well as county residents who aspire to be urban farmers.
“We worked with the Food Equity Council, the University of Maryland Extension and the Soil Conservation District to propose legislation that would essentially open up urban agriculture in a number of the residential zones in the county,” said Matthew Dernoga, policy analyst for councilwoman Mary Lehman.
The kickoff was the second half of the third annual Food Equity Forum, where local urban farmers and nonprofits dedicated to food security weighed in on the connection between urban farming and food equity.
The opening remarks featured Karol Dyson, capital area extension director from the University of Maryland Extension in Prince George’s County; Dannielle Glaros, council vice-chair in District 3; and Mary Lehman, District 1 councilwoman.
Lehman is the main sponsor of CB 25-2016, which is the piece of legislation that adjusted the county’s zoning ordinance to allow urban farming. Despite the prevalence of blighted and vacant property in residential and commercial areas in Prince George’s County, CB 25-2016 will only apply to residential zones, Lehman said. It allows farmers to grow fruits, vegetables and flowers and permits composting and beekeeping. Livestock is excluded from the legislation.
“I know there is a contingency of people who really, really want chickens,” Lehman said. “Some of my council colleagues were not quite ready for the backyard chickens. I wasn’t ready to take that on. I hope to do that before I leave the council.”
Despite concerns regarding enforcement from the Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE), councilmembers and other actors involved in the crafting of the legislation forged a cooperation with the Soil Conversation District Office, the entity that will oversee the certification program, the urban tax credit program, as well as other aspects of the program.
“Yates (Clagett) was great about stepping up and saying ‘we’ll play a significant role.’ They will review the farm management plans, they will kind of be holding DPIE’s hand,” Lehman said.
Residents interested in pursuing urban agriculture can reach out to the Soil Conservation Office and provide information about the land plot they are interested in cultivating. Experts from the office will be in charge of surveying land, compiling information and developing farm management plans for new urban farmers in the county. The office will also advise and assist new farmers in order to avoid nutrient sediment and runoff. The goal, Clagett said, is to make sure residents are farming their land to the best of its ability.
“The Soil Conservation District is not a regulatory agency for the county. We are there to help you. We are there to advise you. I’m there to get DPIE off your back. I am not out there to get any of my farmers in trouble,” Clagett, district agricultural engineer, said.
As part of the initiative, farmers will have access to educational opportunities and technical assistance through the University of Maryland Extension. Extension staff members include Kim Rush Lynch, agriculture marketing specialist at the University of Maryland Extension; Michelle Nelson, urban agriculture coordinator; Esther Mitchell, master gardener coordinator; Neith Little, urban agriculture extension educator for Baltimore City and Patricia Steinhilber, coordinator for the Ag Nutrient Management Program.
These staff positions were “tweaked” in order to meet the needs and requirements of the Prince George’s County Urban Agriculture Initiative, Lynch said.
Urban farmers will also be responsible for nutrient runoff produced by their farms. Under state regulations, farmers who make more than $2,500 gross income every year have to develop a nutrient management plan, Steinhilber said.
Meredith Sheperd, an urban farmer in Washington, D.C. and owner of Love & Carrots, went to the kickoff event to network with other farmers and organizations that could connect her to resources. She wants to cultivate in Capitol Heights, but the land she is looking to purchase has no road frontage; the lot can only be accessed through a nearby property. She is currently networking and researching solutions since the current urban farming law does not address specific problems such as hers.
“It’s kind of complicated, and I’m sure there are other unique situations like this that will arise, so I came here to network and meet the right people,” Sheperd said.