An Urge for Urban Ag
by Adrianne Schaefer, City of Somerville Urban Agriculture Intern
This spring, Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone began a new city initiative aimed at supporting local agriculture and getting more people growing food within the city limits. Building on the urban agriculture work of organizations like Groundwork Somerville, the Somerville Community Growing Center, community gardens, new businesses like Green City Growers, and many existing homesteaders and growers, the city hopes to further encourage agricultural entrepreneurship on both on private land, and city lots.
The first major move by the city is putting new policies in place. Specifically, “AN ORDINANCE AMENDING THE SOMERVILLE ZONING ORDINANCE TO ENCOURAGE URBAN AGRICULTURE IN SOMERVILLE ADDING DEFINITIONS, AND AMENDING THE TABLE OF USES AND THE FOOTNOTES TO THE TABLE OF USES TO ALLOW FARMS AS ACCESSORY RESIDENTIAL USES, AND TO ALLOW COMMUNITY GARDENS, COMMUNITY FARMS AND FARMING ON MUNICIPAL LAND” has been proposed and is awaiting approval by the Board of Aldermen. This ordinance would explicitly allow agricultural activity of several different types: home gardens in residential areas, community farms, farms on municipal land and commercial agriculture. The hope is that if these ordinances are approved more urban farm projects like Groundwork Somerville’s new South Street Farm will be in Somerville’s future.
In addition to allowing for agriculture use in the zoning code, the new policies will allow and encourage beekeeping and backyard poultry. Several hives and coops are already being kept in Somerville, and the mayor and the city hope to pair these ordinances with an educational program which would encourage more people to keep bees and chickens, and to do so responsibly.
So why is urban agriculture a great thing for Somerville? As popularity for the farmers markets in Davis Square and Union Square, the winter market at the Armory, and the Mystic Mobile Market has shown, there is definitely a demand for and an interest in local food in our city. The farmers markets also have shown how much food can bring people together. In our city with such diversity of cultures, there are many people who have farming or gardening experience. Urban agriculture can be a powerful way for people to not only produce their own food but gather and build community.
Urban farms can also provide an amazing outdoor classroom for food education. Groundwork’s schoolyard gardens and similar programs including the Mystic Kids Garden at the Mystic Learning Center provide places where children can learn about growing and eating healthy, local food, get outside and be active. Programs like Shape Up Somerville’s Mystic Mobile Market are creating access to fresh, local produce through creative partnerships with local farms. This summer, Shape Up Somerville will be working with Enterprise Farm to expand last season’s successful Mystic Mobile Market to offer affordable produce at multiple sites around the city. Urban farming can also provide job training and create new, meaningful jobs for both youth and adults. Over the next couple of months the city will be exploring ways to creatively use job training funds to increase access to local foods while training local people to grow and market their own produce.
Interested in Urban Agriculture? Get involved by:
- Reading the City of Somerville’s Urban Agriculture blog: http://somervilleurbanag.tumblr.com/
- Joining Groundwork’s Green Team for workdays at the South Street Farm – email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Attending a workshop on raising backyard birds with NOFA and Groundwork on July 24th at 6pm (more info coming soon)
- Following “The Chickeness” online at thechickeness.blogspot.com
- Donating to Groundwork Somerville to keep our farms and gardens growing!