Urban Farming Hassles

Urban farming. Depending on who you are and what you love, those two words either fill you with excitement or make you cringe. For those of us in the sustainable food movement, urban farming equals an opportunity to grow and produce food locally — often times right in our own yards or neighborhoods. For those of us who grew up on conventional farms, urban farming means the smell of dung, diesel, and the noise of chickens invading your picturesque urban space.

Balancing the needs of these two segments of the population can challenge even the most forward-thinking “green” cities, as Kansas City has recently discovered.

From the Kansas City Star:

Steve Mann doesn’t look like an outlaw as he cheerfully harvests giant rutabagas and luscious lettuce bunches from a friend’s garden in Kansas City, North.

But technically he is violating Kansas City ordinances as he prepares to sell the produce.

Brooke Salvaggio never dreamed that she and her husband, Dan Heryer, were running afoul of city codes when they used a few apprentices in their backyard garden business in south Kansas City.

These foot soldiers in the urban farming revolution have found that, along with locally grown food, they are cultivating a controversy.

While they try to capitalize on blossoming awareness about the benefits of turning lawns into fresh fruits and vegetables, they are colliding with city rules designed to protect Kansas City’s cherished neighborhoods.

Those are rules that the city will be rethinking. But for now, Mann is not allowed to sell produce from a residential property he does not own.

And Salvaggio and Heryer are not allowed to use apprentices in their garden business, dubbed BadSeed Farm, because city codes prohibit outside employees at home occupations.

Urban farming is an issue confronting cities all over the country.

How can they regulate gardening as a home-based business? And how can they manage the chickens, goats and other livestock that enhance a farming operation but prompt complaints about noise and odor from nearby residents?

In this area, people are hoping the Kansas City Council will take the lead in balancing these competing interests.

“Because of Kansas City’s desire to be a green city,” City Planner Patty Noll said, “this council has directed us to make (urban agriculture) a priority.”

Not so fast, says Dona Boley, a neighborhood and historic preservation advocate. She grew up on a farm outside Paola, Kan., and says agriculture doesn’t easily mix with many residential parts of town.

“We want to protect residential neighborhoods,” she said.

Challenges from neighbors abound in other cities.

In June, the Overland Park City Council denied a permit for four backyard hens despite testimonials about fresh eggs. St. Louis is looking at outlawing roosters. Wyandotte County is considering some livestock restrictions after complaints about horses.

Yet across the country, many communities are welcoming urban agriculture for its small-business potential, especially in economically deprived areas riddled with underused vacant properties.

“Cities are looking at it as much as an economic development issue as a hobby or recreation,” said Alfonso Morales, a University of Wisconsin assistant professor of urban and regional planning who has studied local agricultural initiatives.

Among examples Morales cited: Cleveland and Boston allow urban agriculture districts within their city limits. Sacramento, Calif., has relaxed its rules about front-yard vegetable plantings.

Kansas City is not necessarily unfriendly to urban farmers. It has relatively liberal rules governing chickens and some other aspects of producing local food, noted Katherine Kelly, executive director of the Kansas City Center for Urban Agriculture, which has helped about 50 area urban farms.

But as the movement gains momentum, Kelly said she thought Kansas City’s code could be even more progressive and serve as a model for other cities.

Judging from the 100 people who packed a late October meeting at Salvaggio’s and Heryer’s BadSeed Farmer’s Market, 1909 McGee St., the urban farming movement here has a lot of support.

It wasn’t very long ago when no one batted an eyelash if you kept chickens in your backyard, hung laundry out to dry, or grew vegetables in even the tiniest, postage stamp sized lawns. Yet that was also a time when most families only had one TV or one vehicle (if they had a vehicle at all). Since then, our urban culture has become much more concerned with the outward appearance of things, and our lives have become considerably more luxurious. Raising chickens became low-class, and home owners association rules started prohibiting hanging your laundry out to dry.

So, is it just me, or do you think the tide is starting to turn? Is the pendulum finally starting to swing back in the opposite direction? I’m constantly reading hopeful stories like the one above about average people working with their cities to try to negotiate reasonable rules surrounding the growing urban agricultural movements. Yet I wonder just how vociferous and widespread this is becoming.

Tell me your stories. What’s legal where you’re at? What’s not? How are your city codes and regulations changing?

(picture by thevikingjoker)


  1. Betsy says

    I just recently found out that you can keep chickens within the San Antonio city limits. It’s limited to a certain number, but I forget how many. I’m pretty sure our neighborhood deed restriction prohibits the keeping of livestock, though. I wouldn’t think a few chickens would be any more of a nuisance than some of the nearby dogs!

    • says

      See, in situations like that I wonder how enforceable HOA rules really are. For example, if you just went ahead and got chickens, would they really stop you? Wouldn’t that depend on a neighbor complaining? What if you bribed your neighbors with fresh eggs? And even if the HOA did send you warning letters, couldn’t you protest? Couldn’t you and your neighbors attend an HOA meeting and rewrite the rules, assuming you could bring enough voters with you?

  2. says

    I went to teach a class about making your own cheese one day. The host’s house was in one of those cookie-cutter McMansion neighborhoods. They belonged to a local Libertarian group and frequent tea party demonstrations demanding “less government” and “less intrusion” into their lives.

    But they live in a home that they can’t paint any other color than beige, and are not allowed to put their potted plants on the back porch or hang their laundry out to dry due to HOA restrictions.

    Why would a Libertarian move into a neighborhood with strict HOAs? It boggles my mind. It does boggle – in much the same way that it boggles to hear them cry for less government on Monday and then cry for Daddy Government to ban gay marriages on Tuesday.

    Either you want someone else telling you what you can and cannot do on your property and with your own body – or you don’t. Make up your mind.
    .-= Everett´s last blog post …Recalled Maclaren Baby Strollers =-.

  3. says

    I certainly don’t live in a McMansion, but my HOA won’t permit me to grow edibles in our front yard. Shh! Don’t tell them we eat the “decorative kale” and nasturtiums and make tea from the rosehips and mint. In the backyard, even if no one can see the plot, a garden plot may not take up more than one tenth of the available yard. No livestock of any kind may inhabit yards, even outdoor dogs are forbidden.

    I want a farm.
    .-= Local Nourishment´s last blog post …Bionic Ice Cream =-.

    • says

      So about HOA rules: Are they all that hard to change? I ask because I went to a couple of my HOA meetings, and virtually NO ONE was there. It seems to me like you could attack the most heinous restrictions (like the backyard garden one) easily just by talking to your neighbors and finding five or ten people to go to the next HOA meeting with you.

      Or, if it really is the sort of thing where no one else would see it because of privacy fences, etc, I don’t see why you couldn’t just plant a big garden anyway.

      • Clare says

        Most HOA’s rules are set up by a lawyer, and if you read through the whole handbook they should have given you upon purchase of your property, you will likely see that it takes a large percentage, if not 100% consent from members, on any given issue to have changes apply. It would most likely go up to a vote of the full membership via mail.

        Might be just easier to operate undercover.

  4. says

    We’re legal. When I looked for land over 20 years ago one of the things I did was study the zoning, ordinances, regs and all that other good stuff for VT, NH and all the towns I was considering moving to. I already lived in a town with no zoning and liked it that way. I crossed off all the towns with zoning as I considered where to buy. I didn’t want to be hemmed in by ridiculous zoning regulations and I also didn’t want to fight city hall. Best to just go somewhere better.

    Recently there was a case in Barre Town, VT of a dispute much like you describe above in Kansas. See:


    She won and still has her chickens. It is a rather small lot but she’s looking for something bigger to move to.

    The problem is when there are too many people too tightly packed together. Studies show that when you do this to rats they start killing each other, eating their young and other nasty habits…

  5. Betsy says

    If I really wanted chickens, I might just get them and let someone complain. Enforcement is really lax. It’s a really small neighborhood, only 46 houses.

    However, my husband doesn’t want them and I shudder to think how my psycho dog would react!

  6. says

    Wow. I’m allowed to hang out my washing on the hills hoist, have 5 ‘large birds’ an outside dog, and can do whatever I want to my lawn! I love living in Melbourne, Australia.

  7. says

    Thanks for posting this. We’d been considering moving to Johnson Co., KS. I’ve read about BadSeed in quite a few articles and I think it’s great what they’re doing. They made the 40 farmers under 40 list at the Mother Nature Network. I’d love to meet them because their my age – there needs to be more young people interested in sustainable ag.
    .-= K @ Prudent and Practical´s last blog post …Martha Stewart’s Christmas Workshop =-.

  8. says

    In the nearby incorporated towns hens are legal. I live in unincorporated Dekalb county on 3 acres. The current zoning requires a minimum of 2 acres to have chickens and you can have 4 per acre. The problem is they must be housed a minimum of 100′ from all the property lines. The way our property is shaped there is no place on our 3 acres where we can legally house them.We have them anyway. They have a hen house in the barn and a run behind the barn so no one can really see them. Historically, the family who built our house and developed our neighborhood had chickens, goats and a pig. When we moved here 2 years ago the first thing we did was till up the front yard and plant a garden. A friend of ours who lives in the same county has been harassed by zoning enforcement lately for growing vegetables in his front yard. I have not been able to find out exactly what the issue is and according to him the enforcement people have been very vague. This week he got a summons to appear in court. I guess we’ll find out what the problem is then.

  9. Shannon says

    In Texas, HOAs have considerable power up to and including seizing your house for failure to pay your annual dues. The flip side of that coin is that most people are apathetic when it comes to their neighborhood. You just have to look at your deed restrictions and see what is the proper method for amending them. In my neighborhood I think it is more involved than just showing up to a monthly meeting and presenting your case for a variance. These HOAs are legal entities with charter documents that are rarely amended. If you do live in a neighborhood where it is easy to change the rules, you probably do stand a good chance if you can get 5 or 6 neighbors on your side to counter the 1 loud complainer.

  10. tina says

    There’s a right to dry law in Colorado – you can dry your clothes outside no matter where you live!

    I would love, love to get chickens for my backyard but we back up to open space and there are coyotes and other animals that might eat the chickens.

    I will grow whatever vegetables I want in any part of the my property and I’d like to see anyone try and stop me! I really don’t think anyone would try and stop me though so I’m not really that tough.

  11. says

    I have 8 hens in my backyard, currently it is illegal to have them, but we are working with the city to get the ordinance changed so it is legal. Education is the key, most people think “chickens, ewwwww!” and don’t undestand that hens are quiet and if kept clean don’t smell.

  12. Carmen says

    San Francisco allows up to 2 hens, no roosters. They have to have an approved enclosure no closer than 150ft from the nearest house (It think). The real trick is finding a place big enough to keep a couple hens. There is a local organization that advocates urban farming. They offer classes on keeping chickens and ducks, making compost, gardening in our multitude of sub-climates, etc. All in all, not a bad city to try to keep it in your own backyard!

  13. says

    I would like to say as someone living in a HOA that when we bought here eight years ago we thought we were Suburban Yuppies. We had no idea that within a few years of having kids we would want anything else. We are making plans now to leave and find some land.
    Getting our HOA changed is near impossible. We can have well kept gardens. Right now I have two boxes of veggies going and some fruit trees so it’s not as bad as some places.
    We can’t own livestock or collect rain water or have a compost bin outside or dry clothes outside. Though very discreetly we are learning ways to do all of those things.
    The thing I hate the most though is how cooped up my kids are. When we bought here we had no kids. A few years later we had five (through adoption LOL). I hate that our house is too close to the neighbors, the irrigation pond, and the street to really let them get outside and play.
    .-= Julie´s last blog post …A Fall Tour =-.

  14. says

    My office has taken the initiative to plant a backyard garden, where we’re growing arugula, peppers, squash, corn and more. It’s not the biggest garden, but it’s an experiment, a start in trying to be more eco-friendly and nourish ourselves with organic, naturally grown vegetables. And so far it’s going really well! You can see some pictures and read about it here and here on our blog!
    .-= Extreme Fitness Results´s last blog post …Health Benefits of Yoga =-.

  15. Jeremy says

    The nearby town of Oak Creek, Colo. is in the process of re-writing town ordinances that govern chickens in town. Read: http://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/2009/nov/12/oak-creek-residents-want-keep-chickens-fertilize-g/ and http://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/2009/nov/13/oak-creek-town-board-allows-family-keep-3-hens/. I think the the choice is either try to change the rules or find a place with rules that fit your lifestyle. Or in true renegade style just do it.

  16. says

    We grew tomatoes in our front yard in San Jose. Right up to the sidewalk. No one complained. (But we made sure we planted green tomatoes so that no one would steal the ripe ones!)
    .-= Nate´s last blog post …Honey-Glazed Yams =-.

  17. says

    We have four chickens. Our city allows up to 10, no roosters as long as they’re 35 feet from neighboring homes. Months after we got them I found out that our HOA does not allow them, but I’ve had no complaints from my neighbors and they’re the only ones who can see them. I was reading recently about how 10 chickens make about the same waste then a forty pound dog. They’re cute, sweet, and we got our first egg today! Hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.

    • Kathy says

      I was looking for a remedy to keep my neighbors renegade chickens from flying into my backyard and saw your comments. Do you keep your chickens from roaming the neighborhood? There is a city ordinance here not allowing chickens in the city limits.
      I don’t care if my neighbors break the ordinance, but just don’t want their chickens in my
      gardens. Their thing is chickens….mine peaceful gardens that aren’t trashed several times during the day.
      Any suggestions?

      • Melissa says

        This is a little late, since your post was almost a year ago, but I would clip their wings and then throw them back over the fence. I have two hens and I keep their wings clipped so they don’t leave my yard.

  18. Jasmine Faith via Facebook says

    In Australia hanging clothes on the line is the norm. In fact the “Hills Hoist”, an Aussie invention, is an institution here :) I’ve never owned a dryer. I can’t imagine not hanging clothes on the line. We’re pretty lucky here that the weather is pretty good in general. Although it rains a lot in winter where I live. So on rainy days we just hang washing undercover on clothes airers. Nothing beats the smell of freshly washed & sun dried clothes.

  19. Kelly Skinner via Facebook says

    I don’t know what’s legal in my neighborhood and what’s not because the neighborhood association bans so much. Our tiny garden is about all we can do.

  20. Michaela Bitner via Facebook says

    Omar we left Ohio for Colorado because of that reason along with a few others. raw milk still requires shares here but healthy foods and farmers markets are a plenty. I feel for you, hope you find that food freedom

  21. Wild Lantana via Facebook says

    Not allowed in my neighborhood… however, I’d definitely want to be on a pretty good size piece of land, and also far removed from exhaust from the road, or gaseous waste from nearby manufacturing. I’d prefer sun and air dried – but I’m not unhappy w/ a drier either. Maybe someday if I get married – it will be part of the luxurious marriage…

  22. Joyanne Ludington via Facebook says

    In our neighborhood, we are legally allowed to have 4 chickens! 4! And 2 rabbits! 2! Since they are food and not pets, (I don’t really believe in outdoor “pets”) that’s just terribly unrealistic, since every day we strive harder and harder to getting closer to being out of the market-driven economy and being completely self-reliant. A single person in our family eats more eggs than that every day! And I generally won’t eat anything other than soy and corn free eggs if I can help it. That’s $7/doz locally otherwise! So we’re lawbreakers. I wanted a farm in the country, and I’m s̶l̶o̶w̶l̶y̶ ̶k̶i̶l̶l̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶m̶y̶ ̶h̶u̶s̶b̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶m̶a̶k̶i̶n̶g̶ ̶m̶e̶ ̶s̶t̶a̶y̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶t̶h̶e̶ ̶c̶i̶t̶y̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ ̶o̶t̶h̶e̶r̶ ̶p̶e̶o̶p̶l̶e̶ ̶o̶n̶ ̶t̶o̶p̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶u̶s̶ ̶e̶v̶e̶r̶y̶w̶h̶e̶r̶e̶ making the best of the situation by getting as many animals as we can afford to feed, have space for, and our neighbors will tolerate. So we have a large flock of chickens and ducks, including a rooster for fertilization (he’s got curfew and wake up times, and is locked in the sound-muffling coop in between, and will get meat rabbits as soon as we finish building hutches. Luckily, we’ve got an 8 ft privacy fence around our backyard. We try to keep the animals in the yard, keep the rooster quiet, and keep the stench down, and we don’t have any complaints. We grow our garden in the whole front yard (you wouldn’t catch me wasting money on water or a lawn mower for aesthetic purposes, I’d sooner plant a bed of rocks or a yard of astroturf), because I wouldn’t want to hang out there without the privacy fence anyway. I’d love the privacy fence around our whole property! Luckily, our ordinances are pretty lenient when it comes to gardens. As long as we don’t live on a corner with tall plants or plant tall things (corn) in the easement between the street and the sidewalk, obstructing the street/sidewalk view, our city’s pretty cool with it. But with so much in the front and back, def no room for a clothesline. We do have a HE washer and a gas (rather than electric) dryer though, and hang some things inside to dry as well.

  23. Cindy Redskins Newman via Facebook says

    I hang my laundry, but it’s hidden from my neighbors because it is forbidden by the laundry police.

  24. Anne Lenten via Facebook says

    Hi Jasmine Faith. We have always used our Hills hoist here in rural Cornwall, UK. We have photovoltaic panels on the cottage roof, so I do use the electric dryer on low, to air off the laundry. When I was first married, we had a long washing line on a pulley and I took pride in the neatness of the graduated line of sheets, towels etc blowing in the wind. But never on a Sunday.

  25. Lane Hopper Lord via Facebook says

    Hanging laundry is perfectly legal where I live, but I don’t have a way to hang it on the rental property we’re in. I would definitely use a clothes line, despite the fact that I can’t stand the way it makes everything smell. I like the crisp feel and the bleaching action on my whites.

  26. Janette Simone via Facebook says

    I’m an Aussie and that’s how we dry our clothes downunder… very meditative and feels good to be out in the healing sun

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