COLUMBIA — Beth Low envisions a Kansas City with a sustainable food system in which all members of a community have access to fresh, healthy, local food.
Low, director of the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition, said the city took a step toward her vision when it legalized the sale of homegrown produce from residential property last June.
In June 2010, the Kansas City Council approved an ordinance that allows the sale of produce from residential properties by defining the models of urban food production:
- A garden maintained by residents of the property.
- Whole, uncut foods grown on site may be sold or donated between May 15 and Oct. 15.
- Does not require a permit.
- A garden maintained by a group of individuals who eat, sell or donate the produce grown.
- Gardeners may sell on-site if no house is on the lot.
- Does not require a permit.
- A farm where food is grown for shareholder consumption, sale or donation.
Shareholders arrange to work on the farm in exchange for a share of the food.
- Farmers must apply for a special use permit and a on-site sales permit.
- Growing and harvesting food crops for off-site sale or donation.
- Must have a special use permit to sell on-site.
So far, the ordinance has been a success, Low said.
“What we’ve seen are law-abiding citizens take advantage of a new product to help their community,” she said. “I believe it has sprouted more sales of fresh produce in communities that lack access.”
Mary Hendrickson, MU extension associate professor and director of the Food Circles Networking Project, said the ordinance is part of a nationwide trend, though it has been difficult to document.
“There is a lot more of it going on than there has been,” Hendrickson said about homegrown produce sales. “The trend is a lot harder to document because it is off the radar screen.”
Under the Kansas City ordinance, home and community gardens do not need to apply for sales permits. Community-supported farms, where stakeholders pay in advance for produce during the growing season, are supposed to have a special use permit.
This made it hard to determine whether the number of sellers has grown, said Patty Noll, project planner with the Kansas City Planning and Development Department.
Many community-supported farms that were operating before the ordinance passed are most likely operating without a permit, but this is not a problem until somebody complains, Noll said.
“It is not within our purview to go looking for violations, but only our ability to respond,” Noll said.
There have been no complaints since the ordinance passed, Noll said.
Hendrickson said the trend is growing for many reasons.
“It is the convergence of the want for access to fresh, flavorful food, people with the skill set to produce for their neighborhoods, a response to crisis situations, like in Detroit and Cleveland, and the permeated culture of locally grown food,” Hendrickson said. “We’re not in a crisis situation, but we have some of the same things in Columbia.”
Patrick Zenner, Columbia's city development services manager, said retail sale of produce in residential zoning, whether grown on- or off-site, is illegal in Columbia. Though violations would be dealt with on a complaint basis, vendors would be shut down, he said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission requested that City Council authorize an amendment that would legalize the sale of produce grown on-site from properties in office zoning.
"Until we are directed by (City) Council to do so, the text amendment is just a concept at this point," Zenner said. "Not in every instance is it appropriate to change the underlying land use of a property, which is how the amendment came about."
The amendment would not change residential zoning, Zenner said.
“We are not looking to commercialize residential land with retail sales,” he said.
Urban agriculture is beneficial as an infill use, where vacant or underutilized land is developed, and provides access to affordable, healthy foods, according to a staff report.
Low said the Ivanhoe neighborhood in Kansas City is one community that has benefited greatly from the ordinance.
Ivanhoe is six miles away from the nearest full-service grocer. The low-income neighborhood has seen a decline in population and an increase in vacant lots and buildings, Low said.
“They’re turning blight into food production and creating vitality and access to high-quality, affordable, fresh foods,” Low said.
The neighborhood has seen an increase in community gardens and is branding its products with the slogan, “Grown in Ivanhoe.” The neighborhood is selling produce and value-added goods, such as spaghetti sauce, salsa and canned vegetables, Low said.
Adam Saunders, the board president of the Columbia Center for Urban Agriculture, said the amendment would be a good step forward for the city.
“It’s good policy to get land owners to engage in food production,” Saunders said.
Saunders, who advocated for the urban chicken ordinance that passed in 2010, called Kansas City’s residential zoning ordinance good policy that would create revenue and jobs.
“It’d be beneficial for Columbia,” Saunders said. “We’ll get there eventually, I hope.”
In Boone County, producers may sell fresh produce grown on-site from residential property, according to the county ordinance.
Though she said she has not seen residential produce sales like in some other cities, Hendrickson said she thinks there may be growing interest in Columbia.
“This town might have more awareness of food issues,” Hendrickson said. “When there’s awareness, people see opportunity and their creativity kicks in to produce solutions.”