Urban farmers grill candidates

Candidates for City Council and mayor share views on urban agriculture policy

Lingering wintry weather may have delayed the growing season, but a group of urban farmers are seizing the opportunity to get more involved in Minneapolis’ ongoing campaign season.

At least one candidate for mayor and candidates in several of the City Council races have already responded to a six-question survey on policy issues related to urban agriculture. The Minneapolis Urban Farmers Collaborative, a small, informal group made up of farmers, beekeepers and other urban agriculturalists, is responsible for circulating the questionnaire and posting the candidate responses online.

“There’s been a group of urban farmers kind of casually or informally getting together over the last two years or so,” said Eric Larsen of Stone’s Throw Urban Farm, one of about eight organizations represented in the collaborative. “… [As] the group has kind of evolved and become more organized, we’re going to be taking up more policy and advocacy work and add another layer to the group.”

The City Council one year ago voted to approve the Urban Agriculture Zoning Text Amendment that for the first time established a basic framework in city code for urban farming. But some farmers want to revisit issues addressed in that document, including the limits on when and how often sales can take place at market gardens. And they are pushing for city leaders to tackle more complex topics, like creating opportunities for farmers to negotiate long-term lease agreements for urban land, since many now operate on tenuous year-to-year arrangements.

The questions include:

— “Do you as a candidate support allowing chickens as livestock at urban farms?”

— “Will you as a candidate work to build affordable access to city water hydrants and support city cost assistance for water for urban farmers and community gardens?”

— “Do you as a candidate support creating a city pilot program for leasing public lands for urban farming?”

— “Will you as a candidate support small businesses by removing barriers to on street and off street parking of contractor work vehicles and trailers?”

— “Will you as a candidate support the local food system by easing the permitting process for on-site vegetable sales, by reducing permit fees, increasing the amount of days farmers can sell, and allowing produce sales from multiple farm sites?”

— “As a candidate for public office, what would you like the food economy of Minneapolis to look like in 2017?”

Candidate responses are being posted on the Minneapolis Issues Forum hosted by e-democracy.org. As of April 10, they’d shared the survey questions answered by mayoral candidate Gary Schiff, the current Ward 9 City Council member; his City Council colleague Meg Tuthill and Lisa Bender, one of three challengers for Tuthill’s Ward 10 seat; Ward 2 City Council Member Cam Gordon; Jacob Frey, who’s challenging City Council Member Diane Hofsted in Ward 3; and Andrew Johnson, a candidate seeking Sandy Colvin Roy’s Ward 12 City Council seat.