Thursday, March 29, 2012

Farming in the City: Variances Approved

We are very happy to report that all of our variance applications were approved on Tuesday by the city zoning board! This is a huge step in our efforts toward trying to save this family farm property. The meeting proceedings even made it into the local news, in the Lockport Union Sun & Journal and the Buffalo News.

In the springtime


The Process
We found out last month that the whole 100-acre property, that has always been farmland, was zoned residential. In order to operate it as a farm, we needed to apply for variances for land use, retail to sell in the barn, some signs and a place for people to park. Notices were sent to all our neighbors. Well, since we are located in a city, that totaled about 60 residences around the perimeter of the property. The process included a zoning board meeting that is open to the public. About 40 people attended and were able to hear our proposed plans and voice their concerns and opinions. We were able to address them with further clarifications. In the end, the board passed each of the variances unanimously.

Next, the plans go through the County Planning Board for recommendations. This is because our property line touches the town border. After that, they will go through the City Planning Board. These address more technical issues, such as size of the parking lot. For this, we will have to hire a landscape architect because all the plans need to be drawn up to scale.

This was an unexpected process to do this Spring. But, just like healthy soil for plants, we realized that it is a necessary step to make sure our farm business is on a solid foundation. Fortunately, the process has been well laid out and people have been very helpful, even though it is uncommon for the city to see this kind of business start up. We've come to find out that it is not all that uncommon anymore. More and more farms are being tilled in private and vacant lots in cities around the country.
Barn and Sheds from the yard

We're Not Alone
To prepare for the meeting and for our own knowledge, we reached out to friends who knew about the urban agriculture movement and to pretty much anyone who might be able to provide information or share experiences. We got a lot of responses. A school friend active in Louisville's local food movement was even willing to help go through ordinances with us. It is not just farmer's markets anymore. People are moving the farming right into the cities.

We were surprised and thrilled with what is occurring across the country. In February, the Boston mayor kicked off a zoning process to encourage community farming, as it beautifies the city and widens access to fresh, healthy food to people who can't usually get it. In 2010, Cleveland passed a very progressive recoding policy to make it as easy as possible to start farming in the city limits because it attracts and keeps residents. One of Milwaukee's two booming urban farms, Growing Power, is hosting the 2012 Urban & Small Farm Conference: Growing the Good Food Revolution. In Buffalo, there are four gardens/farms that we learned of who are growing fresh produce within the city limits: Wilson Street Urban Farm, Queen City Farm, and Cold Spring Coop, and the Massachusetts Avenue Project aquaponics project. Right here in Lockport, Hall Apple Farm is a historic farm that is in both Lockport the city and the town.


So far, we have mostly thought of our efforts as preserving this special house and property that has somehow remained intact and in the family by making it our home and restarting the farm. This week, we realized how much bigger it is than just our little corner. It is connected to the neighborhood, the city, and even to a trend that is taking a many people back to their roots and to the roots. We may have many more meetings to attend and rows to hoe, but we are more committed to offering fresh locally grown produce from our barn doors. Thank you to all those who have encouraged us along the way.
Sunset over the fence

3 comments:

  1. Congrats! We're thrilled that you've persevered and conquered.

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  3. That's really great, you guys! Am fairly new to all this stuff myself, but am learning that, as you note, this is a widespread problem around the country, as zoning has changed to anticipate population growth. It'll be a huge barrier to keeping active farmland in populated areas. So congrats to you, both for the victory and for going about the process in such a model way!

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