Today was a landmark for urban agriculturalists as the City Council voted unanimously in favor of amendments to municipal code which simplify the process for approving farmers' markets on private property, make minor adjustments to community garden regulations, and ease restrictions for keeping chickens, goats, and bees.
In an affable session marked by laughter and applause, the Council heard from several supporting speakers ranging from Hoover High School geographic information systems students to members of the San Diego Beekeeping Society, the San Diego County Farm Bureau, the Goat Justice League, Food Not Bombs, the International Rescue Committee, New Roots Community Farm, the San Diego Hunger Coalition, and the One In Ten Coalition, as well as 55 written supporters who did not speak at the meeting.
The amendments follow a $50,000 grant awarded to the City of San Diego in March to pursue municipal code and general plan amendments supporting urban agriculture with the goal of stunting obesity rates by planning communities in ways that support increased physical activity and access to healthy foods.
Under the amendments, retail farms (produce is grown and sold at the same location) are differentiated from farmers' markets.
Daily farmers' market stands can operate seven days a week and no-value-added foods can be sold with the stipulation that stands on private properties cannot replace private parking and stands within public right of way require certificate of insurance.
Weekly farmers' markets on private property are allowed as limited use in nearly all commercial zones and can operate one day a week per location provided that access points are retained and access to restrooms is made available.
“The benefits are highly nutritious produce is harvested and sold as it naturally ripens and there's little to no transport or packaging of the produce,” said Dan Joyce, Senior Planner at the Development Services Department, in a presentation before the session opened up to public comment.
Previous municipal code allowed for up to 25 chickens provided they were 50 feet from residences, effectively prohibiting most residential coops. Under the new code, chickens are allowed in single family zones, in community gardens, and retail farms.
Regulations prohibit roosters, allow for five chickens if the coop is outside a required setback, 15 chickens if the coop is 15 feet from the property line, and up to 25 under the current requirements.
“It provides benefits,” said Joyce. “Fresh eggs daily. On average a hen lays 300 eggs a year. No need to package or transport eggs. Eggs are produced in a healthy, humane condition, and fresh eggs provide a higher nutritional value.”
The new code permits the raising of goats in single family zones and lots with a single family dwelling (previously the code allowed goats in agricultural zones only) provided there are no more than two goats (neutered, dehorned, and miniature only) and the food products are used for western consumption only.
“The benefit is fresh milk and cheese,” said Joyce. “Worldwide, goat's milk is the most consumed milk. 25% of Americans are lactose intolerant and a majority are able to consume goat's milk without side effects.”
In the first municipal code revision on beekeeping since 1977, the practice is now allowed in single family zones with a single family dwelling, community gardens, and retail farms provided there are no more than two hives, these at least 15 feet from off-site residential structures, and 20 feet from the right of way.
The hives must be in a secured area not visible from the public right of way and surrounded by six foot high screens or be at least eight feet above grade.
“The benefits of bee keeping are fresh natural honey, natural sweetener, and increase in the docile domesticated honeybee population,” said Joyce.
“San Diego has had European honeybees since 1869,” said Eric Robinson of the 450 member strong San Diego Beekeeping Society. “They were brought here by John Harbison. Beekeeping was a large part of the San Diego economy as we exported boxes of honey back to the East Coast and Chicago. John died a millionaire… The bee keeping industry in California represents about $5 billion worth of agriculture. Every third bite of food is something that pollination by bees was involved in the process.”
Other statements of support for the amendments included the need to cultivate domesticated bees to counteract their plummeting population due to the enigmatic “colony collapse disorder”, the prospect of carbon emission reduction by eating locally grown produce, and, according to lifelong San Diego resident Oliver E. Owen III, 71, the simple enjoyment of “great critters. They relax you. Your blood pressure goes down, you don't drink as much. And they have personalities. I'm here strictly to support this thing on the basis of camaraderie of animals. That's all.”
Laura Hershey of the Goat Justice League gave a brief demonstration on how to pasteurize goat’s milk on a stovetop in thirty minutes.
Leslie Goldman brought in a sprig of perennial arundo grass, which, he said, grows abundantly in local canyons and is useful as goat feed.
After public comment, City Councilmembers gave individual statements of support and asked remaining questions before the amendments went to vote.
“I'm so thrilled that you all are here,” said Councilman Todd Gloria. “These are my people. There are so many District 3 residents who are here who have wanted this for years.”
Gloria first became aware of the “animal husbandry issue” in May 2009, when North Park resident Kaya de Barbaro of a cooperative home and garden known as The Roost (read more about co-op houses, including the Roost, here) talked with him at Lestat's in Normal Heights during a "Coffee With the Councilmember" meeting regarding a citation her residence received for raising chickens.
“I wasn't sure if we could do anything about it,” said Gloria. “Through our community garden effort, which started I think the very first meeting that I chaired in December of 2008, we got this ball started. We got that done and then other folks started to bring up other issues about bees, goats, other issues, more complex than the community garden issue. What I want to point out, Mr. Young, is it took us nearly three years to do the community garden ordinance. This one only took about 10 months or so I think."
Joyce later noted that part of the reason for the ordinance's expediency was that the grant would expire after today.
"Healthy living depends on access to healthy food," said District 1 Councilwoman Sherri Lightner. "We have heard plenty of testimony to that. That is why the urban agriculture movement continues to grow in popularity and why the City actually sought out this grant to encourage urban agriculture. Done correctly, urban agriculture helps to teach children about healthy food options, critical to combat childhood obesity. [It's] also a great way to make fresh fruits and vegetables available at reasonable prices to neighborhoods who do not now have access to them and it helps to build a sense of community where none existed before."
“My grandfather was born and raised on a farm,” said District 6 City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf. “I was slave labor to my grandpa and I didn't know it because it was fun, you know. So we would go out and get a salad; We would just go out to the garden…things have changed now… [the] little tomatoes we have growing, my kid thinks it's a miracle. It is a miracle. There is something growing. So, I'm really glad to see this.”
“Just imagine if you - all of the other issues in your neighborhood that you came down here and advocated like you have on this issue - just imagine how much better your community would be,” said District 4 Councilman and City Council President Tony Young. “This is a great example of how government can be supportive of the things that are important to you.”
The mood was festive in the corridors of City Hall after the amendments had passed to the apparent delight of the Council and the ninety or so people who had shown up in support as many of them posed for victory photos outside the chamber.