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City Council Gives Urban Farms, Community Gardens More Freedom to Sell Produce

Good news for growers: The Minneapolis City Council on Friday made changes to its urban agricultural policy. The folks who run farms and market/community gardens in the city will no longer need to apply for the $150 farmstand permit. They can now peddle produce on site (with a sign and table) for as many as 75 days a year.

Previously, the permits were only good for 15 days a year, which meant that growers needed to decide in advance when they were going to set up shop. But that's difficult -- some might argue impossible -- considering that one's bounty depends largely on the weather.

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Whatever the case, the whole thing irked both amateur and professional green thumbs who were trying to run successful businesses or simply trade zucchinis with passersby. Jim Bovine, the co-owner of California Street Farm, says the old permit system rose to "a level of absurdity" that reeked of "deliberate bureaucratic entitlement."

Then he offered an analogy: "You don't limit the number of days that a coffeehouse can sell coffee. Why would you limit the days that a grower can sell produce to people who want it and need it?"

The permits were also inconsistent with state law. The Minnesota constitution does not prohibit growers from selling their own goods on their own property. Hearing this, council member Cam Gordon introduced an amendment last year that would become the new policy. It sailed through the legislative process without much pushback, except for a zoning and planning committee on September 11.

There, council member Lisa Goodman complained that she hadn't received prior notice of Gordon's changes and questioned how traffic would be affected in her neighborhoods. Her hesitation was seconded by council president Barbara Johnson, who focused on the community garden part of the amendment. She commented:

In my neighborhoods, we've got hundreds -- hundreds -- of vacant lots, and I'm glad people want to use them for community gardens. But do we want to have a farmstand on every block? I think it's dangerous for neighborhoods that are really challenged.
As a compromise, the committee decided to remove the phrase "community garden" from the amendment and review that part of the policy in the future. Gordon, however, reinserted the language into the amendment Friday, and the rest of the city council -- with the exceptions of Goodman and Johnson -- approved it as it had been originally written. Remember, we're talking about the use of a farmstand, which in most cases just means a table and a sign. But it's a tiny accommodation that can make a difference for the city's commercial enterprises. It's the simplest way of letting the public know who's open for business. "Right now," Gordon tells us, "all the market gardens and urban farmers in the city basically aren't generating enough income to live off. It's a real struggle, and maybe this is a way to make it more economically viable for the most successful growers." -- Send story tips to the author or follow him on Twitter @marxjesse