Fort Worth is hoping to grow closer to becoming one of the healthiest U.S. cities.
On the momentum of the Blue Zones initiative — a five-year, healthy-city project — Fort Worth planning and development staff is poised to roll out a long-sought land-use policy designed to encourage residents to take vacant and underused lots and turn them into urban farms that won’t require rezoning.
From there, gardeners will be allowed to set up temporary stands a few days a week to sell their produce. Changes are planned for all zoning districts to encourage healthy eating and getting fresh produce into areas called food deserts, where access to healthy foods can be difficult.
Brandy O’Quinn, policy manager with Blue Zones Fort Worth, called the proposed urban agriculture amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance progressive, adding the changes will hopefully teach younger generations how to grow food.
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“We’re starting to see a culture shift across the U.S.,” O’Quinn said. “Cities are starting to understand they need to remove the barriers. It’s all tied together.”
The proposed changes in Fort Worth come on the heels of other zoning changes made earlier this year that include the addition of an ordinance allowing push carts, mobile vendors and the like to sell fresh vegetables and fruit in neighborhoods.
The Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing July 13 on the latest proposed changes to make a recommendation to the City Council. Council action is likely in August after members return from their summer break.
An urban farm is being defined by the city as a public or private, for-profit or nonprofit agricultural operation consisting of planting and harvesting crops, raising fowl and/or beekeeping. Home gardens and community gardens are already allowed in the city.
Connie Nahoolewa, executive director at the Northside Inter-Community Agency, which operates a community garden, said the change will encourage entrepreneurship, but it will also mean more fresh produce stands in urban areas. That, she said, “makes an incredible difference. Anything to raise the level of nutrition in this area would be good,” she said.
Stephonia Roberts, who grows a garden at her Carter Park neighborhood home to supply her organic skin and hair-care product line, likes the business idea of the ordinance.
She started her garden some time ago as a way to eat healthier, but it grew beyond being a hobby and into a way to deal with some health issues. And then to help supply her business, Mrs. Jack’s Body Food, which is sold online and at fairs.
Some of the ingredients she uses also come from an organic farmer in Oregon, she said.
Roberts, a Texas master naturalist, said she’s hoping the ordinance will encourage more home gardening, particularly in her neighborhood. From her home off Interstate 35 and Seminary Drive, she said she has more access to liquor stores than to stores with fresh produce.
A couple times a year, she hosts a garden dinner party to show how to eat what you grow.
“It doesn’t cost an arm and a leg,” Roberts said. “You live in a garden. It’s called Earth.”
Growing good food
The proposed ordinance has a lot of support among residents and nonprofits.
James Zametz, who makes his living in the construction remodeling trade, is also an urban farmer in the South Hemphill Heights neighborhood. His entire back yard is devoted to herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes, kale, cilantro, peppers, lettuce, strawberries, raspberries and an apple tree, just to name a few.
“I have it arranged so it looks like landscaping,” he said. There are no raised beds or rows of plants.
Zametz also oversees the website KeepFortWorthFunky.com as a way to encourage buying from locally owned businesses. Through it, Zametz said, he has his eyes set on starting a food co-op with produce grown in Fort Worth gardens.
He’s also pushing to get a neighborhood garden started. Growing food is something everyone should learn, he said.
Having an urban agriculture ordinance will go a long way toward achieving those goals, Zametz said. “A City Council that’s mindful of that … makes the community better,” he said.
Likewise, David Barnett, who runs Feed By Grace, the organization where the homeless farm the Unity Park Garden on the east side, said that while the zoning won’t impact what they’re doing, it is a great solution for under-served areas. He calls the move an awakening in the city.
“I’m excited that urban farming and community gardens are getting some needed public attention,” Barnett said.
Joining the crowd
In the past several years, dozens of cities nationwide have begun using zoning codes to introduce and allow for urban agriculture.
In Chicago, for example, an old meat-packing plant is used as an urban farm, and in Dayton, Ohio, a vacant ammunition plant in the heart of the city is being used to grow food.
In Fort Worth, the ordinance will allow gardeners to supply local businesses, schools and nonprofits who feed the hungry. It will also improve the appearance of some neighborhoods.
Moreover, it will allow aquaponics, or the process of raising fish and plants together. Currently, aquaponics is not allowed.
For gardens more than 1 acre in size, a site plan would be required on lots not shared with a residence, under the proposal. In some cases, a land-use certificate of occupancy would be needed, and fees would kick in if a water tap is needed.
The ordinance spells out beekeeping, allows for produce sales in residential districts three days a week, and allows self-pick farms in commercial districts.
Jocelyn Murphy, Fort Worth’s planning manager, said remnants of agriculture zoning are scattered throughout the city.
The intent with the new zoning “is to try and help people eat healthier,” with the bigger picture of increasing the supply of locally sourced produce.
The city, Murphy said, may not be on the forefront of urban farming, but it’s not behind the curve, either. About 70 people attended a public meeting in mid-May about the proposed ordinance.
If approved, Ann Salyer-Caldwell, associate director of community health with Tarrant County Public Health, said Fort Worth would be the first Tarrant County city with urban farming zoning.
The food truck and push cart piece “helped open doors to City Hall to get this rolling. Policy doesn’t happen overnight.”