As I have noted on The Back Burner before, more and more restaurants are sourcing their food locally. And restaurants in urban areas are even turning vacant lots, empty roofs, and bare terraces into herb and vegetable gardens, yielding fresh produce for their customers. The trend has taken off quickly, and, at least in Culver City, CA, the municipal government is grappling with how to regulate urban gardens.
The problem started when the owner of the Bluebird Café approached the owner of a long-vacant strip of land near the restaurant that was formerly part of a railroad spur. The restaurateur soon convinced the developer to let him use the land to grow crops that would supply fresh produce for the restaurant, including 535 tomato plants and 40 fruit trees.
Everything was going fine until municipal officials caught wind of the operation and pointed out that city zoning laws prohibited the pair from selling any of the produce that came out of their impromptu garden. Anything used for personal consumption was fine, but for sale was illegal.
As cities and suburbs have grown bigger they have covered more and more farmland, and as consumers demand locally sourced, organically grown produce, a conflict has arisen between antiquated zoning laws and the realities of the modern landscape. The result is a growing need for more progressive municipal laws that allow both citizens and local businesses to maximize land use in their communities. Such progressive thinking not only addresses the growing desire for locally sourced foods but improves the municipal scenery and helps the local economy.
Concerns over water use, toxins and pollutants in urban soil, and the taxation of sold produce are all things that can be readily addressed by revised zoning laws. It’s merely a matter of pushing those changes through the bureaucracy of local government.