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More and more people are turning their rooftops into gardens, front-yards into farms, and vacant lots into vegetable patches. And while the burgeoning urban garden movement can add beauty and affordable produce to any neighborhood, it can also bump up against a few city, state, and federal ordinances.
So if you're getting into urban agriculture to be more health conscious, eco conscious, or money conscious, make sure you're also conscious of the laws and statutes that might apply.
The first rules and regulations that might keep your urban agriculture endeavor from taking root will be your homeowners association. Not every home, apartment, or condo is subject to HOA agreements, but if your residence is, they could prohibit you from any agricultural use of your yard or any use at all that affects the neatness and appearance standards for your yard.
And if you're thinking of selling any of your produce or products, HOA's can also bar any business or civic activity. Courts have been friendly to HOA restrictions, so be familiar with any property covenants before you plant.
You should also check any municipal building, zoning, or land use ordinances. While local laws may allow urban gardening, you may need to get a license or permit to grow crops or keep animals on your property. Some towns or cities have begun creating urban agriculture-friendly ordinances to encourage urban farms, but other cities may be lagging behind. So double check with your city and county laws to make sure your growing plans comply.
A few states, like California, have recently passed urban agriculture legislation designed to encourage efficient use of city space and locally-sourced food. The Golden State allows municipalities to give tax breaks to people who grow food on small parcels of land. So the government might even pay you to tend that empty lot down the block.
Meanwhile, the Food and Drug Administration regulates (FDA) the sale of all fruits and vegetables. And while federal regulations mostly only apply to large, non-urban farms (those with more than $500,000 in annual gross sales, and send more than half of their product to consumers, restaurants, or retailers out-of-state or farther 275 miles of the farm) it never hurts to be aware of federal laws in case your modest, urban plot blossoms into something bigger.
Of course, your best source of info for local, state, and federal agriculture laws is an experienced municipal law attorney. Contact one today.