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Urban Agriculture in Somerville, Massachusetts

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With over 80% of the American population living in metropolitan centers, the importance of providing fresh, healthy food to urban areas has becoming an important challenge facing the nation. One solution to this growing problem is urban agriculture, or growing and selling produce within the city limits. Somerville, Massachusetts has acted as a pioneer city in urban agriculture, as it has recently instated ordinances that make it possible for urban farmers to sell their produce in the city and keep up to six chickens (hens only, no roosters) and two bee hives for farming.

The ordinance, which was spearheaded by Mayor Joseph Curtatone, was the result of the city’s effort to encourage the growing of healthy, local foods. It is part of Somerville’s Urban Agriculture Initiative which includes a series of educational events called “Let’s Grow Somerville,” the raising of the first city farm and the City Hall Demonstration Garden.

To ensure public safety, Somerville’s urban agriculture ordinance requires residents to have their soil tested if they are going to be selling produce, clean chicken coops once a week and compost the manure. Also, permits are required for chicken and bee keeping and includes a fee of $50 for the first year and $25 every year after. The rules do not apply to home gardens where people grow fruits and vegetables for their own consumption.

Luisa Oliveira, the city’s senior planner for landscape designs says that the plan seeks to ensure that farming is conducted in a safe and healthy way that minimizes the chance of neighborhood conflicts.

People have kept chickens and bees in the city prior to the new ordinance but, until now, there have been no specific regulations to guide city inspectors. Somerville is certain that its new laws will promote urban agriculture in safe, sustainable ways.