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Somerville officials approve first urban agriculture ordinance

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2012 08:11


Courtney Chiu for the Tufts Daily

The Somerville Board of Aldermen recently passed the state’s first agriculture ordinance, which establishes formal guidelines for urban farming.

The City of Somerville has passed a new urban agriculture ordinance that establishes rules for local farming, chicken keeping and beekeeping.

The ordinance addresses the growing amount of urban agriculture activity in Somerville and promotes these activities through acknowledging and regulating current practices, according to Luisa Oliveira, senior planner for landscape design in Somerville.

Urban agriculture is the practice of raising animals and crops in an urban environment, without large facilities or land. The set of rules is the first urban agriculture ordinance in the state of Massachusetts, although similar regulations exist in other states, Oliveira said.

Somerville Mayor Joseph Curtatone first proposed the ordinance about eight months ago, according to Oliveira.

“I think probably the most important thing that it tries to accomplish is to allow people to do these practices and encourage it, at the same time trying to mitigate any conflicts between neighbors because [Somerville is] the densest city in the Northeast,” she said. “We also want to encourage responsible urban agriculture.”

The ordinance establishes several rules for chicken and beekeeping, requiring residents to obtain a permit if they would like to do so. In addition, residents can now grow and sell their own produce as long as their soil is tested for lead and contaminants on a yearly basis, she said.

Oliveira said there are no plans to regulate other types of livestock in the future.

“We have really too small of land parcels to allow anything beyond that,” she said.

The City of Somerville has been working to increase awareness about urban farming, according to Oliveira. The city this year hosted a series of agriculture−related workshops titled “Let’s Grow Somerville!” and has been reaching out to the community through Facebook and Tumblr.

“All of those are really geared toward knowledge sharing, so that people who are doing these things can become aware of the best emerging practices in the fields of urban agriculture, chicken−keeping and beekeeping,” Oliveira said.

Stefanie Yeung, president of the Tufts Tom Thumb’s Student Garden, believes the new ordinance will encourage safe agricultural practices in the Somerville community.

“It’ll make the community a lot more eco−friendly because it will cut down on costs of transporting food in and then people will begin to grow their own things,” Yeung, a junior, said.

The Tom Thumb’s Student Garden club tends to the smaller community garden between Latin Way and South Hall, as well as the planters outside the entrance to Tisch Library, according to Yeung. Since the student group only harvests a small amount of crops in the garden, the ordinance will not have a significant effect on campus, she said.

Senior Mae Humiston, a member of the Tom Thumb’s Student Garden club, said the group might be interested in keeping bees in the future.

“They’re kind of more low−maintenance than chickens,” she said, noting that chickens would be harder to care for given the nature of the academic year.

Humiston added that although it is good that people will be more educated about where their food has been produced, complex regulations could make it harder for those interested in urban agriculture to get started farming.

“It’s certainly a step in a positive direction for letting people make their own food,” she said.

Yeung explained that the ordinance might also facilitate further cooperation with local organizations in the Somerville area.

“[Residents will] have a chance to grow their own [food], and I think the ordinance promotes individual farming, personal gardening and stuff like that,” Yeung said.

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