Coinciding with a rise in farmers market, cities and states are seeking to utilize urban areas by transforming small parcels of land or vacant lots into areas of agricultural production. Urban agriculture describes operations ranging from community gardens to commercial production on a larger scale. Technological innovations such as indoor vertical farms and hydroponics have enabled urban farmers to expand their operations and growing seasons and offer innovative products.
Agriculture in urban and suburban areas has risen in popularity in recent years due to an interest in increasing access to healthy foods, promoting sustainable community development and sourcing local produce. States often consider urban agricultural policymaking as part of a larger local food system and may encourage related activities to support agricultural processors, distributors, and marketing. Food hubs are just one example of how multiple aspects of a food system can be housed in one location. In these innovative spaces, producers have direct access to consumers and other resources to support their growing business.
The creation of state-wide food policy councils, task forces, and other bodies promotes the coordination among multiple stakeholder groups on local food system issues. State lawmakers have also encouraged urban agricultural activities through the appropriation of funds and establishment of grants.
Another policy approach encourages land access by allowing the use of public land and vacant lots and property tax incentives. California passed legislation in 2013 to create Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones (UAIZ). The bill authorizes cities and counties to enter into contracts with landowners to restrict their use of land for small-scale agricultural production. In return, the landowners have their land assessed at a lower rate based on the per-acre value of cropland in California. Louisiana and Missouri have enacted legislation in recent years to allow for the establishment of similar zones. Recent legislation in Kansas and Utah has also addressed property appraisals and taxes.
Examples of Recent Enacted State Legislation
The following table describes state legislation enacted in recent years related to various aspects of urban agriculture – gardening in urban areas, food hubs, and statewide coordination. For more information, see NCSL’s Harvesting Healthier Options and webpage on community gardens.
AB 551 (2013) allows a county or city to establish Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones (UAIZ) for the purpose of supporting local food production. Authorizes cities and counties to enter into contracts with landowners who agree to restrict the use of their land for a minimum of five years for small-scale agricultural production. Landowners then have their land assessed at a lower rate based on the average per-acre value of irrigated cropland in California. A city or county with a UAIZ program may establish regulations for implementing and administering the program, including assessing a fee to cover the cost of the program and cancelation fees for exiting a contract early. For more information, see NCSL’s 2013 Healthy Communities Action Bulletin on the law.
Since passage of AB 551 in 2013, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to establish a county UAIZ program, which started accepting applications in May 2016.
SB 106 (2010) created a Food Systems Advisory Council to develop recommendations that promote local food economies. The recommendations may include an examination of local and regional efforts to develop local food economies by identifying regulatory and policy barriers and strengthening local infrastructure and entrepreneurial efforts, and to determine the potential effects of local food economies on economic development in Colorado or other food access and economic topics.
District of Columbia
B 158 (2015) provides for no more than $400,000 in 2016 and $350,000 in each fiscal year thereafter to be used to implement the Urban Farming and Gardens Program, Urban Farming Land Leasing Initiative and the real property tax abatement for urban agricultural uses.
B 677 (2015) authorizes the mayor to create the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program, which will compile a comprehensive list of vacant lots within the city for use as urban gardens through voluntary donation and negotiated agreement. The program will also encourage “the donation and cultivation of vacant lots for use in the Food Production and Urban Gardens Program.”
B 967 (2013) established a working group to develop a plan for establishing a commercial distribution system for fresh produce and healthy foods to corner stores. The working group must include a representative of urban farming and community gardens and will issue recommendations to the Mayor and the Council. This bill also established two programs to increase healthy food access in low-income areas.
HB 560 (2013) authorizes the Hawaii housing finance and development corporation to provide incentives for the development of housing projects that incorporate urban gardening programs. Requires the University of Hawaii at Manoa College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources to be consulted regarding best practices.
HB 3990 (2009) sets a goal that 20 percent of all food products purchased by state agencies and state-owned facilities be local farm or food products by 2020. The bill removed a barrier to purchasing locally grown food by giving preference to locally grown food. The bill also created the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Council to help local farm and food entrepreneurs identify and secure resources and equipment to expand projects and build infrastructure and use of public lands for growing local food products, among other goals.
HB 1300 (2007), or the Illinois Food, Farm and Jobs Act, established the Local and Organic Food and Farm Task Force. The task force will develop policy and funding recommendations for expanding the state’s local and organic food systems. The task force will examine opportunities to increase local food production, identify legal impediments to local food production, identity land preservation and acquisition opportunities for local and organic agriculture in suburban and urban areas, and identify means to expand urban agriculture training programs, among other provisions.
SB 280 (2015) amends property tax law including appraisal for “land devoted to agricultural use.” If a parcel has land devoted to agricultural purposes and land used for suburban residential acreages, rural home sites or farm home sites, the county appraiser shall determine the amount of the parcel used for agricultural purposes and value and assess it accordingly as land devoted to agricultural purposes.
HB 840 (2010) established the Louisiana Sustainable Local Food Policy Council to consider a number of policies, including analysis of how best to promote urban and backyard gardens, evaluation of the effects of sustainable local food production on economic development, identification of local and regional efforts that provide information and training to entrepreneurs and local farmers who are pursuing sustainable local food economic development opportunities, and identification and development of solutions to regulatory and policy barriers that inhibit sustainable local food economies among other provisions.
HB 761 (2015) allows political subdivisions to establish Urban Agricultural Incentive Zones (UAIZs) to allow for contacts with landowners for the agricultural use of vacant, unimproved, or blighted lands. Contract terms must be at least three years. Restriction on the property must be at least 3,000 square feet but less than three acres in size. Dwellings are prohibited on UAIZ properties. Fees may be imposed on landowners for the costs of implementing and administering contracts.
SB 191 (2016) provides a grant of $150,000 to the Board of Directors of the American Communities Trust, Inc. for the acquisition, planning, design, and construction of a food hub facility, including construction of a food pantry, urban farm, kitchen incubator, food distribution facility, food production facility, and community spaces located in Baltimore City.
HB 1062 (2010) authorizes the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore City or the governing body of a county or of a municipal corporation to grant a tax credit against the county or municipal corporation property tax imposed on specified urban agricultural property.
SB 3018 (2016) creates appropriations of $10,235,000 in the first year and $10,235,000 the second year for the agricultural growth, research, and innovation program. Annual reports by the commissioner must be made concerning the accomplishments and anticipated accomplishments in the following areas: developing urban agriculture; facilitating the start-up, modernization, or expansion of other beginning and transitioning farms; sustainable agriculture on-farm research and demonstration; development or expansion of food hubs.
SB 5a (2015) directs the commissioner of agriculture to convene with interested stakeholders to develop a proposal to effectively and efficiently promote urban agriculture in Minnesota cities. Defines urban agriculture as “producing agricultural plants, poultry, or livestock on public or private property within city limits.”
HB 2006 (2016) provides $50,000 in grant funding to a community garden project within the northeast portion of a county with a population of more than 950,000. Creates competitive grants for innovative agriculture projects that promote urban, suburban and non-traditional agriculture.
HB 1848 (2010) established the Joint Committee on Urban Agriculture. The committee must study and make recommendations regarding the impact of urban farm cooperatives, vertical farming and sustainable living communities, and must examine various trends in urban farming, including; existing services, resources, and capacity; affected communities; and any needed legislation, policies, or regulations. The committee must hold meetings to seek public input.
HB 542 (2013) established urban agriculture zones (UAZ), defined as a “zone(s) that contain an organization or person who grows produce or other agricultural products, raises or processes livestock or poultry, or sells at a minimum 75 percent locally grown or raised food.” Any person or organization may submit an application to a municipality to develop a UAZ on a blighted area of land. Real property taxes may not be assessed on any UAZ for 25 years once the application requirements have been met, except an amount not greater than the tax due during the preceding calendar year in which the UAZ was designated. Requires a grower UAZ to pay wholesale water rates for water consumed on the zone property and pay 50 percent of the standard cost to hook onto the water source if the water service is provided by the municipality. Requires any local sales tax revenues, less 1 percent that is to be retained by the Director of the Department of Revenue, from the sale of agricultural products sold in a UAZ to be deposited into the newly created Urban Agricultural Zone Fund. School districts may apply to the State Treasurer for money to develop curriculum on urban farming practices under the guidance of the University of Missouri extension service and a certified vocational agricultural instructor.
LB 699 (2016) allows municipalities to establish priorities for the use of real property conveyed by a land bank. Such ranking shall take into consideration the highest and best use that, when possible, will bring the greatest benefit to the community. The priorities may include, but are not limited to, use for urban agricultural activities including the establishment of community gardens.
AB 2859 (2011) authorizes the sale and lease of unneeded public property to nonprofits for gardening and urban farming. Exempts such urban farms from property taxation and authorized such nonprofits to sell fresh fruits and vegetables on the leased land, off the leased land, or both under certain conditions.
AB 3688 (2011) creates the New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Initiative Pilot Program. The pilot program will operate in one or more municipalities, selected by the Secretary of Agriculture, in which residents have limited access to nutritious foods through supermarkets, grocery stores, and farmers’ markets, which agree to participate in the program. The Department of Agriculture shall identify, on its website, the municipalities selected for participation, and the vendor supply areas at which, and the times during which, fresh mobile vendors will be accessible for community residents.
SB 1067 (2009) created a Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council to help build a local food economy. The council can consider the possibility of promoting urban gardens and backyard gardens and analyze the potential effects of the production of sustainable local food on economic development in the state, barriers to a sustainable local food economy and issues regarding strengthening local infrastructure and entrepreneurial efforts related to a sustainable local food economy, among other goals. The council must report findings and recommendations annually.
HB 2774 (2010), also known as the Oklahoma Certified Healthy Communities Act, created the Oklahoma Certified Healthy Community Advisory Committee. Criteria for eligibility include the establishment of community gardens and incentives and support for farmers’ markets.
HB 2994 (2011) authorized the Texas Agricultural Finance Authority’s Board of Directors to establish an urban farm microenterprise support program. The program supplies loans that expand, renovate, improve or establish new urban farm microenterprise programs. Urban farms must be owner-operated and located in areas of 500,000 persons.
SB 122 (2012) allows parcels in Salt Lake County between two and five acres to be assessed at lower property rates if the land is used to grow crops for sale at a profit, as long as production is greater than 50 percent of average production for similar land. This bill also provided for the rollback of some of the benefit of the lower property tax rate when or if the land is sold for development.
HB 1115 (2015) provides an appropriation of $307,000 solely for the Rainier Beach urban farm and wetlands.