US: Urban farming is expensive, but advocates are trying to change that

When Beth Keel, Cecile Parrish, and other urban farmers were planning an urban farm on the East Side of San Antonio, they didn’t plan to encounter five pages of complex development codes and around $170,000 in permitting and platting costs. The project seemed simple for Keel and Parrish, a San Antonio-based urban farmer. And it seemed exactly what the East Side needed — improved access to fresh food, green spaces, and community sustainability.

Instead, they soon learned that building urban farms or gardens in San Antonio is a cost-prohibitive and complex process for most. Development codes, which are nonspecific and generally meant for housing or commercial development, can put prospective urban farmers through years of infrastructure hurdles and permitting costs before they can begin farming.

For Keel and Parrish, who broke ground at the Garcia St. Urban Farm in 2019, the process consumed all the federal grant money, with most of it spent on infrastructure. Certain educational elements and amenities were cut, and the process took four years.

Prompted by the experience, advocates, including Keel and Parrish, are working to change San Antonio’s Unified Development Code — a chapter in the municipal code that governs development in the city — to streamline urban gardening and farming. This fall, the City Council will vote on proposed amendments to the UDC, including seven related to urban farming that were proposed by the Food Policy Council of San Antonio. Proponents say the changes, if adopted, would make urban farming and gardening less costly and more efficient throughout the city.

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