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County council expands urban farming to residential zones

countycouncilUPPER MARLBORO – “Your local farm” will soon have a whole new meaning in Prince George’s County.

The county council voted unanimously 9-0 to pass CB-25-2016, which expands the definition of urban farming and designates it as an allowed use in more of the county’s zones. Councilwoman Mary Lehman was the bill’s main sponsor.

“I really believe strongly that this bill is going to support not only local economies, but individual families and communities, and it’ll strengthen the fabric of our communities,” she said.

The definition of urban farm has been expanded to include for-profit enterprises, in addition to non-profit ones previously allowed, engaged in the growing of vegetables, fruit or flowers. It does not include the keeping of livestock, but does permit beekeeping, agricultural education activities and composting. The new measure also allows urban farming in rural, open space and residential zones up through the R-55 zone, as well as the R-18 zone with the condition that the urban farm not exceed five acres of land and the local municipality grant approval, if applicable.

Several groups throughout the county voiced their support for this bill, speaking to the benefits it will have county-wide.

Demetrius Lee, an intern with ECO City Farms, said urban farms provide the opportunity for residents to learn more about nutrition and the importance of eating natural food.

“These farms will allow us to really give our community a good picture of what they’re doing to themselves (with their eating habits). There are a lot of chemicals in things that you don't understand what they are. It’s a lot that goes into these things,” Lee said of items like fast food. “These farms are much more than farms.”

Michelle Nelson, urban agriculture coordinator for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension in Prince George’s County, said expanding urban agriculture opportunities can also help the refugee population gain skills and a connection to their new home.

“CB 25 is opening the door for new farmers throughout the metropolitan corridor,” she said.

Although urban farming is now allowed in more areas, the council said they are not finished tweaking the regulations. Councilman Todd Turner said he wants to clarify the role of municipal governments in the process of approving urban farms in their jurisdictions.

“That’s something that we’re going to look at and potentially try to address in the fall. I think it is appropriate for the municipal governments where an urban farm is coming in to be notified of that fact,” he said.

Lehman said in the future, she would like to see urban farming expanded even further, into industrial and commercial zones.

“Rather than having blighted or vacant lots, I think it makes a lot of sense to be growing food,” she said. “Especially in a county where we still have a lot of food deserts and food insecurity.”

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