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San Diego is studying the potential impacts of urban agriculture on the local food system. A report issued to the City Council’s Committee on Land Use and Housing dated July 12 covered three potential changes to zoning law that would bring healthier food into the community.

The first point addressed concerned the creation of a new land use designation: “retail farms.” These farms would be fewer than 4 acres in size, and would have a minimum of 1,000 square feet of retail space for each acre of land used. Using vertical growing techniques, produce could be grown using 85% less water and 70% less land than a conventional farm.

Because food grown at such a farm would be sold on-site, environmental impact would be reduced by eliminating the need to transport food first from a farm to a distribution center and then on to a retail outlet where it would be made available to the end consumer. Skipping these steps would also allow the produce to be picked and sold at peak ripeness, increasing the nutritional value of crops.

Areas suggested for such a use type include vacant parking lots, rooftops of other businesses, and existing buildings to be converted for indoor growing. Each small-scale farm could create up to 15 jobs.

The next item covered in the report is animal husbandry. We previously reported on a local movement to ease restrictions on the keeping of chickens in residential areas. The report addresses the birds, noting that the severity of San Diego restrictions fall between several other urban areas studied. It notes that five chickens (the number requested in the existing chicken proposal) could provide up to 30 eggs per week, enough to feed a family of four or more.

The report also addresses the potential for residents to keep goats, including Miniature, Dwarf, and Pygmy goats, all about equal in stature to a medium sized dog. Generally kept in pairs, goats can produce up to a gallon of milk a day, which is suitable for making cheese and beneficial to many individuals allergic to cow’s mile.

Rounding out the animal husbandry section is the topic of beekeeping. San Diego code, not updated since adoption in 1977, requires potential beekeepers to pay a $3.00 registration fee and keep their hive 25 feet from any property line and 100 feet from any neighbor’s dwelling or public right-of-way (600 feet if more than one hive is kept). As with chickens and goats, the report recommends further research and community input to determine if current lot size and setback requirements are appropriate or need to be revised to be less (or more) restrictive.

The final item addressed was farmer’s markets. While they have grown immensely popular in the region, most are conducted on city property by shutting down sections of a public street for a few hours each week. Some areas, particularly suburbs, do not lend themselves well to blocking off streets for the purpose of a market. In these areas, a commercial parking lot or other private space could be used, but current law puts these under the use heading of “Swap Meets and Other Large Outdoor Retail Facilities.”

This designation limits the areas where zoning would allow a market and requires a Conditional Use Permit, which adds to the overall cost and the required effort of putting on a market. It’s suggested that simpler regulations be adopted, bringing the process of hosting farmer’s markets on private property closer to that of those on public land, which require a Special Event Permit and $150.00 fee through the City’s Office of Special Events.

The study was funded by a $50,000 grant issued in March to explore Land Development Code amendments that would expand urban agriculture opportunities within the city. The grant’s funding comes through SANDAG on behalf of the county’s Health and Human Services Agency. The full report can be found here.

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