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New Guide Released for Increasing Local Food Production and Improving Your Community

Sustainable Pittsburgh often hears from sustainable community leaders and neighborhood champions, “what do we do if a group wants to start a community garden?” or “how do we encourage and support local agriculture?”  Those leaders can now reference the well-researched advise found in the new Urban Agriculture: A Guide for Municipalities, created by University of Pittsburgh’s Institute of Politics.  Urban agriculture, as it is described in the IOP’s Municipal Guide: includes activities such as growing, processing, marketing, distributing, and the consuming of food and other products through growing plants and raising animals in and around a village, town, or city.  Such activities can be public, private, or commercial and can exist in many forms, like community gardens, market gardens, and backyard animal keeping.  Urban Agriculture can create a positive and sustainable impact on a community through improved outcomes in public health, social equity and community building, economic growth, and a reduced carbon footprint.

Permitting and incentivizing community members to produce their own food increases the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.  IOP’s Municipal Guide explains these community gardening activities can improve personal mental well-being through connecting with nature, and they encourage increased physical activity in gardens and green space.  By utilizing common parcels of land, gardens provide a natural way for a community to socialize, revitalize engagement, strengthen resiliency and pride, and can serve to educate members of the community on food, nutrition, cultural diversity, and sustainable living.

Economic development, especially in distressed areas, is another positive result of well managed urban agriculture.  This can include increased entrepreneurship and workforce training, and rising property values near green space.  It can also motivate the community to be more self-reliant as they adopt their own urban agricultural practices.  A study from John Hopkin’s illustrates how community and market gardens in urban spaces creates a myriad of benefits including:

  • Growing the biodiversity of native plants and pollinators
  • Producing cleaner air through plant filtration
  • Increasing protection from extreme weather (like the mitigation of heat island effects);
  • Reducing storm water runoff into urban waterways due to vegetation collecting and retaining precipitation
  • Recycling of organic waste through composting practices and/or converting it into chicken and other animal feed
  • Fossil fuel mitigation through the carbon sequestration created by vegetation and crops
  • Reducing carbon production by decreasing the distance food must travel to reach its destination

Well-regulated urban agriculture is not difficult to achieve by incorporating the model ordinances found in the IOP’s Guide into a municipality’s existing zoning ordinance.  An alternative to permitting urban agriculture activities in specific zoning districts is to establish an urban agriculture overly for existing districts.  The recommendations are written to permit urban agriculture activities that are appropriate, sanitary, safe and mindful of minimizing the concerns of neighbors.  Community and market gardens, the keeping of domestic fowl, miniature goats, other farm animals, and bees, and farmer’s markets are all addressed in the IOP’s Guide.

The Municipal Guide contains the following: history and explanation of urban agriculture; definitions of urban agriculture language; regulations for urban agriculture activities and guidance for incorporating the language into existing zoning ordinances.  For an in depth discussion on the topic and additional information, you can view the SCDN webinar Sustainable Pittsburgh produced in collaboration with Local Government Academy, and Jon Burgess of the Allegheny County Conservation District and Marisa Manheim of Grow Pittsburgh both of whom assisted in the creation of the IOP’s Municipal Guide.