Farming rules in cities sometimes blurred

September 21, 2010|By JEFF SEMLER

Maybe some of you have heard and maybe not, but there was a man fined $5,000 for growing too many vegetables in Dekalb County, Ga.

According to several reports, the county code enforcement officers said the man grows more crops on his land than allowed under zoning regulations.

The grower said he would fight the charges in the ongoing battle neighbors are calling "Cabbagegate."

The man has been growing fruits and vegetables on the site for more than 15 years. In fact, he bought the neighboring property so he could expand his garden, which is now 1.5 acres.

He gives produce to neighbors, customers of his landscaping business and sells it at farmers markets. And although he has had the zoning changed, the county is insisting on pursuing him for his previous transgressions.


While many local food enthusiasts cite urban agriculture as crucial to re-establishing local food systems, zoning laws might present challenges. What distinguishes outlaw tomato plants from a legitimate commercial operation is not always clear. Some folks, like the man mentioned above, become unwitting violators.

Across the country, many municipalities are making compromises to encourage new, productive land uses. Earlier this year, New York's underground apiarists scored a victory when the city agreed to make beekeeping legal. Many cities, such as Seattle, Wash., and New Haven, Conn., have made allowances for backyard chickens.

This is not a small movement hovering on the lunatic fringe. In Detroit, there are nearing 900 urban gardens and farms. As far back as 2005, before the crash of the economy and the big three automakers, this headline graced the Detroit News: "Urban farming may well hold the key to the future of Detroit."

This is not a revolutionary idea growing some of your own food. You only have to go back a little more than 100 years when gardens, chickens, pigs, cows and horses were kept inside the city of Hagerstown, as well as many other larger cities.

On the other hand, perhaps it is revolutionary since Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and John Adams were major agrarians as well as patriots.

At any rate, whether you are a backyard gardener or a full-on vegetable farmer, do we have a program for you.

It is titled "Everything from Pumpkins to Stink Bugs - Research and Extension Updates."

The fruit and vegetable twilight meeting is planned Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the University of Maryland - Western Maryland Research and Education Center, 18330 Keedysville Road.

The meeting is intended to provide producers the opportunity to get a firsthand look at several of the ongoing projects at the research facility.

University of Maryland Extension researchers and specialists Jerry Brust, Bryan Butler, Galen Dively, Kate Everts and Chris Walsh will present on the following topics:

o Maryland pumpkin trials with 20 varieties

o Apple seedling and NC 140 rootstock trials

o Bt sweet corn varieties

o Mobile high tunnel with strawberry, tomato and raspberry production

o An update on the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Registration is not required, but is helpful in planning for handouts and refreshments. Sandwiches and refreshments will be provided. Please RSVP to 301-432-2767, ext. 350 or e-mail">

Jeff Semler is an Extension educator, specializing in agriculture and natural resources, for the University of Maryland Extension. He is based in Washington County. He can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1404, ext. 25, or by e-mail at">

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