Urban Farm Code: The City Council Decides

The Code and Metrics working group of the Austin/Travis County Sustainable Food Policy Board worked long and hard to advocate for urban agriculture. I want to thank both Paula McDermott, who chaired the board during this important time as well as Katherine Nicely, who co-chaired the working group along with city staff. After a 9-month process, many public meetings, and input from farm advocates and neighborhood groups, several items were passed in a lengthy city council meeting that lasted past 11PM on Thursday evening. Here are Katherine’s words as she plans to present to the SFPB today in our meeting at city hall:

"We truly appreciate what Council Members passed last Thursday night. We also appreciate the passion for this topic. The current Urban Farm code passed and is a good base for Austin. These are some of the outcomes –

  • Urban farms: The ordinance honors and maintains the ability for the urban farm use to be allowed "in every zoning district". This aligns with the City of Austin's goals delineated in Imagine Austin.
  • Market gardens: A new farm designation of Market Garden has been introduced to honor the small grower that in the past could grow vegetables on their property but couldn't sell them directly to people from their property. In the past, they were non-compliant.
  • Third party sales: Third party products should take up to no more than 20% of the farm stand's sales area and be produced in the state of Texas. Market Gardens cannot have a farm stand and can conduct sales out of sight of the general public on the property, and generate no more than three customer related trips per day on average.
  • Dwellings: Urban farms can have up to 2 dwellings on the property, which is an increase. Auxiliary structures should be allowed.
  • Employees: 2 employees per acre are allowed.
  • Additional use for Indoor Crop Production for CS zoning and above, for the purpose of raising and harvesting indoor tree, row or field crops on an agricultural or commercial basis, including packaging and processing.
  • Animal Raising and Processing: Raising fowl, rabbits and fish (aquaponics only) is allowed. No processing or composting in single family use but can be allowed in commercial uses and other zoning categories. Animal harvesting has not been eliminated completely from City limits.
  • Events: Urban farms will be able to apply for up to 6 Temporary Use Permits per year to host non-educational outdoor events, including fundraisers."

While not everyone got what they wanted in this process, as Mike Martinez stated that evening, “Tomorrow the sun will come up and we’ll all still be neighbors, one Austin working together on these issues.” I am hopeful that this dialogue continues and that all stakeholders feel that they have a strong voice as we advocate together for food sovereignty and a vibrant, local food system.