Austin ponders code changes for urban farms
The city of Austin is considering a tweak of the city code that will add new definitions covering urban farms.
Urban farms – a very broad term that encompasses agricultural activity in the city limits – are a small but important part of a food industry where agriculture sales generated more than $350 million and food manufacturing contributing more than $450 million to our economy, according to a study by local economics firm TXP Inc.
That same study recommended that the city move forward with changes to the urban farming code to encourage the industry. For many farm owners, the recommended changes are long overdue.
Urban farms offer a wide variety of services and have plenty of opportunity to run afoul of city regulations – often without their operators’ knowledge. In July, Dorsey Barger of Austin’s HausBar Farms had her business shut down because it had too many dwellings on the property.
Other farms have run up against other city rules when they’ve tried to host events. Some have been frustrated by rules regulating how they sell produce. A few have been in disagreements with neighbors over animals raised on the property. All have slim profit margins and often rely of a variety of events and products to stay afloat.
The city’s proposed code changes add more nuance to how it deals with the farms by separating different business models. The backup included on an upcoming City Council agenda suggests that the terms market garden, urban farm with livestock and urban farm with facilities for gatherings.
That could open up the opportunity for the city to deal with those types of farms individually, preventing a blanket regulation that could smother some of the smaller farms.
The language of the definitions themselves haven’t yet been posted, so it’s unclear how far the definitions will go toward assuaging the issues Austin’s urban farmers have laid out in the past.
Robert Grattan Staff Writer-Austin Business Journal