Boston-grown Greens, Coming Right Up! Mayor Approves Commercial Farming in Boston

Elena Mihaly | @ElenaMihaly

Calling business-savvy green thumbs to Boston! Just before leaving office, former Mayor Menino approved a new Urban Agriculture Zoning Ordinance, known as Article 89, which allows urban farmers to grow food for commercial purposes in much of Boston—be it in soil, in water, on rooftops, or even in modified shipping containers!

The three-year effort to bring urban farming to Boston began in 2010 when a local business owner wanted to start a lettuce farm to provide his neighbors with fresh greens. Unfortunately, Boston’s local land use laws would not allow it. Wanting to help, former Mayor Menino and his Office of Food Initiatives launched a citywide Urban Agriculture Rezoning Initiative. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) convened a series of meetings of the Mayor’s Urban Agriculture Working Group, made up of farmers, farming advocates, agriculture experts, and neighborhood representatives. Former Mayor Menino signed Article 89 on December 20, 2013, bringing the law into effect immediately.

Article 89 sets new standards for a variety of urban agriculture activities in Boston. While most agricultural activities were not allowed prior to the new Article, now commercial-scale farms, up to one acre, are allowed in all districts. The changes also allow urban farmers to sell at farm stands on their property. Farm stands can also be set up where retail uses are already allowed, and elsewhere by special permit. Proposed large-scale farms must go through a review process to make sure they will be compatible with neighboring land uses.

Some residents expressed concern about food grown in contaminated urban soils. However, as a result of a careful public process, Boston has become a national leader in establishing a Soil Safety Protocol for urban farms. To ensure soil is safe for growing, farmers can either use imported soil and raised beds, or submit documentation showing that, based on an environmental site assessment, native soils pose no significant risk.

If you’re wondering whether this new ordinance will mean you’ll soon be hearing roosters cockle-doodle-doing outside your bedroom window, the answer is no. The backyard keeping of hens and bees was not part of these changes, and is still not allowed in most zoning districts. Where the keeping of hens and bees is allowed (and then only upon special review when certain conditions are met), Article 89 defines the size of beehives and coops, numbers of hens and hives, and other maintenance requirements. Residents who live where hens and bees are not allowed may work with their neighborhood associations to petition the BRA to allow them. Legalize Chickens in Boston is working with community members interested in pursuing this.

By addressing a wide range of urban agriculture activities, Article 89 will increase access to healthy food, promote community building, create business opportunities, and help form beautiful neighborhoods.

CLF is delighted with this development, and commends the BRA for listening closely to the urban farming community and responding to feedback in developing Article 89. The result is a robust, responsibly crafted Article that puts Boston in the lead on urban agriculture. So get excited, Boston localvores: beans grown in Bean Town are coming to a market near you!


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