Progress on the Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative in Worcester

By FALPC Intern Jacquelyn Burmeister

Tomorrow, members of the Worcester Food and Active Living Council (FALPC), the Regional Environmental Council (REC), Worcester County Food Bank (WCFB), and Congressman McGovern’s office will be meeting at the Mayor’s Office in Worcester to discuss the advancement of legislation for urban agriculture.

The organizations have been collaborating with the City for over a year now, in an effort to increase the presence of urban farming in Worcester.  Current legislation permits the use of urban space in Worcester for traditional and nontraditional gardening, such as hydroponics and aquaculture, so long as it is not commercial.  This means that all gardening that occurs in community lots is for personal use like a community garden, or as a part of a non-profit initiative, such as that of REC’s YouthGrow.  However, the opening of vacant city-owned lots, or even private property, to commercial growing could provide opportunities for healthier lifestyles and economies all over the city.  Advocates would like to see legislation that permits commercial farming in the city and are hoping to team up with city officials to write an ordinance much like Boston’s Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative, Article 89.  If passed, the new ordinance would allow for commercial farming in ground-level, roof-level and freight-container farms up to a certain size, and potentially the opportunity to raise small numbers of egg-laying hens and honey bees as well.  Farms would still be subject to certain zoning restrictions, inspections and permitting based on size and location.

Right now, urban agriculture rezoning in Worcester is still in the planning process.  While it is still unclear how the final ordinance will unfold, the hope is that we will have a robust public engagement process and in the year 2015 see an amendment to the City’s zoning ordinance that would increase access to healthy food, promote community building, create business opportunities and help beautify neighborhoods.

“Worcester is ripe for this next step in our growing food and urban agriculture movement,” says Liz Sheehan Castro, Director of the Food & Active Living Policy Council.  “We have residents that want to use their farming skills on land in the city and we have more and more people wanting fresh, local food for their families, schools, restaurants and businesses.  Cities like New York, Seattle, Boston and many others have taken this step and it has created more opportunity in those cities for health and economic development.  We’re excited to be part of this movement in Worcester.”

Stay tuned to the Food & Active Living Policy website and Facebook page for more updates on the urban agricultural rezoning initiative in Worcester.

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