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Urban Farming
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Zoning Laws Must Change To Meet Needs Of Poverty Stricken Nation

By James Donahue

There was a time in America when jobs were plentiful, folks were realizing substantial wealth and comfort and government planning and zoning boards were busy drafting documents to assure a utopian future for all.

Those were the days when federal grant dollars were readily available to communities that jumped through certain hoops. Among the hoops were the establishment of a planning commission (comprised of local citizens) that drafted a “master plan” for future development, and a zoning board (also comprised of the citizenry) that created zones, or specific mapped areas within the town where property owners had to meet certain standards of compliance.

Once the town council adopted the master plan and approved the zoning laws, the federal money began funneling down the pipeline to help complete all kinds of community improvements from the creation of city parks to extensions of water and sewer lines into planned new urban development neighborhoods.

During this period population growth, the construction of better highways and urban development virtually covered the landscape, often covering some of the best agricultural land in the nation.

Another phenomenon that occurred was the development of industrial agriculture, with big corporate farms buying up smaller family-owned farms. The food produced on these massive farms was no longer pure as farming moved into genetically modified crops and livestock was saturated with antibiotics and other chemicals designed to make them grow faster and produce more food by-product such as eggs and milk. There has been a growing demand for organically produced foods. 

The good times have now come to a screaming halt.

All those federal grant dollars have long dried up as have the federal and state revenue sharing programs, leaving counties, cities, villages and townships fighting to balance their budgets and meet weekly payrolls. Dreams of utopian development have been put on the shelf as local plants and businesses plunge into bankruptcy and workers by the thousands lose their jobs.

Now as neighborhoods reorganize to collectively adjust to low-income lifestyles they are running head-on into restrictive zoning laws designed to assure that residential neighborhoods remain prim and well cared-for.

The existing zoning laws conflict with the concept of turning green grass lawns into vegetable gardens to produce food for the homeless and hungry. Also a growing number of “urban farmers” want to go even farther and utilize vacant lots and spacious yards for not only producing vegetables, but keeping chickens and other farm animals for the production of milk, eggs and other fresh food products.

Those now outmoded zoning laws, and some of the employed and still comfortable folks living in homes in many of those utopian-styled neighborhoods, are blocking this new social need, however. After all, chicken pens, goat and cow barns and the keeping of even small numbers of such animals creates smells and calls for barn-styled buildings that violate zoning laws and anger neighbors that desire life in a well manicured environment.

As America struggles to adjust to what has happened to us there has developed a growing conflict between those urban gardeners and city zoning boards over zoning laws that govern residential gardens.

Indeed, the laws must be changed to allow people to put those green spaces into better use than merely providing attractive, spacious and well manicured lawns and shrubbery.

In fact, some groups want to take zoning law changes even farther. They would like the laws to allow people to work out of the home when employers allow it.

They also would like to allow for development of new business and potential industrial models by would-be inventors who wish to work in home garages and back yard structures. While they may have the genius for a new product, they lack the resources to try their ideas outside of the home.

Believe it or not, some of the zoning laws were drafted to prevent anyone from working in the home, and some of the laws prohibited anyone from living in apartments built on the second floor of downtown business places.

There is a crying need today for such laws to be relaxed, if not entirely stricken from the books. And those old master plans should be abandoned altogether, or at least locked in a vault somewhere for use at some future time when and if America ever climbs back out of the deep pit it down finds itself in.