Promoting Urban Agriculture Through Zoning

Local governments can use urban agriculture as a tool to address many financial, health, and environmental issues.  For example, agriculture in and close to major cities can help the environment by, among other things, reducing the distances food travels.  Community gardens can keep people active while providing them with natural, locally grown food.  Municipal policies can help community gardeners make money by allowing them to sell excess produce.  Moreover, community gardens can beautify neighborhoods and serve as a focal point that promotes resident interaction.

Sustainability Officers interested in promoting urban agriculture can refer to "Zoning for Urban Agriculture," an article prepared for the American Planning Association that provides a brief history of U.S. urban agriculture, as well as numerous examples of urban agriculture nonprofits, projects, policies, and ordinances/regulations. The authors of the article identify, and provide examples of, three roles that cities play to promote urban agriculture:

  1. Including urban agriculture in the planning process as a component of land-use and food policy
  2. Establishing programs and organizations
  3. Creating urban agriculture zoning and permitting processes

While the authors provide a good overview of how a city can include urban agriculture in its planning process and promote urban agriculture with the help of nonprofits and community organizations, the article provides greater details on the zoning and permitting aspects of urban agriculture.  In the article, the authors reference many nonprofits, markets, farms, government initiatives, plans, and ordinances.  Links to most of the article's examples and references appear below, along with a brief description of the nonprofit, market, farm, government initiative, plan, or ordinance.


Community GroundWorks at Troy Gardens - A 31-acre urban property in Madison, Wisconsin that "integrates mixed-income green-built housing, community gardens, an organic farm, and restored prairie and woodlands."

Dane County (Madison, Wisconsin) Farmers' Market on the Square - Market that only sells agriculturally-related items that are produced in Wisconsin.

Growing Home - Nonprofit organic agriculture business that provides employment opportunities/training for homeless and low-income people in Chicago.

Growing Power - Nonprofit that runs farms, provides training in growing methods, performs outreach for farmers and communities, and produces/distributes food.

NeighborSpace  - An organization that helps communities protect their gardens/parks from development and works with public and private partners to expand Chicago's community-managed open space.

Nuestra Raices - An organization that helps the Puerto Rican community in Holyoke, Massachusetts maintain a connection to their culture through urban agriculture while establishing roots in their new community.

The Urban Farm at Stapleton - A Denver-area farm.

Zenger Farm - A Portland-area farm.


Madison, Wisconsin Community Development Block Grant - Information regarding Madison's use of CDBG funds to develop community gardens.

New York City Green Thumb Program - The New York City Department of Parks & Recreation's community gardening program.

Portland, Oregon Community Garden Program - The Portland Parks & Recreation's community gardening program.

Seattle P-Patch Community Gardening Program - A program run by Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods and P-Patch Trust, a local nonprofit, through which the Department of Neighborhoods manages 73 community gardens. 


Mayor Gavin Newsom's Executive Directive regarding Healthy and Sustainable Food for San Francisco - Outlines the City's commitment to health and sustainable food and creates a food policy council consisting of both public and private members.

Portland/Multnomah County Food Policy Council - A citizen-based urban agriculture/local food advisory council to the City of Portland and Multnomah County; the website contains regional reports and publications (e.g., the Diggable City Report, which is an inventory of Portland's land that is suited for agriculture).


Baltimore Sustainability Plan - Discusses sustainable local food systems and urban agriculture.

Boston Open Space Subdistricts - Section 33-8 establishes a community garden subdistrict. 

Chattanooga Ordinance No. 11107 - Creates an urban agricultural zone that includes as permitted uses "[a]gricultural uses such as the growing of crops, dairying, grazing, the raising and maintaining of poultry and livestock, horticulture, viticulture, floriculture, forest, and woods."

Cleveland Zoning Code - Establishes an "Urban Garden District" as part of the Zoning Code to "ensure that urban garden areas are appropriately located and protected to meet needs" for the community.

Kansas City, Missouri, Climate Protection Plan - Contains recommendations to promote "residential neighborhood food production" and "metropolitan food production."

Milwaukee Zoning Ordinance - Permits the "raising of crops or livestock" in residential districts (see Subchapter 5 Residential Districts, Chapter 295-503 Uses).

Nashville Commercial and Non-Commercial Community Gardening Zoning Ordinance - Amends Title 17 of Nashville's zoning ordinance by allowing commercial and non-commercial community gardens as a Permitted use or a Special Exception use.

Portland (Oregon) Zoning Chapter 33.920 - Defines agriculture as including "activities that raise, produce, or keep plants or animals" (Code Sec. 33.920.500).

Sacramento Ordinance No. 2007-025 - Revises Sacramento's code by removing barriers to planting fruits and vegetables in residential front lawns.

City of Seattle Comprehensive Plan, January 2005 - Contains goal of having "one dedicated community garden for each 2,500 households" in an urban village.

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