Urban Agriculture: Market Gardening Comes to Town

Local food production is one of the key components of a climate crisis solution. The spread of the urban agriculture phenomenon across the U.S. is encouraging in this regard. Many cities have embraced the concept by allowing and encouraging the farming of vacant lots. But what does urban agriculture look like in U.S. suburbs where vacant lots are not an issue? In 2021, Inver Grove Heights became the second suburb in Minnesota to “legalize” urban agriculture. It is called market gardening here and it takes a slightly different form than it does in big cities. As one planning commissioner put it, “It’s like a lemonade stand for vegetables in your driveway.”

“Market garden” chestnut mushrooms growing in Dawn Gaetke’s suburban home garden.

Most suburbs allow gardening, of course. But almost all suburbs disallow the selling of the produce from your residence. I grow mushrooms in my shady yard. In August of 2020 I approached the city planning commission for a permit or variance to sell the mushrooms. It was then that I learned the zoning ordinances prohibited such commercial activity in residential zones. Thus began the months-long process of petitioning for a zoning ordinance change. I believe there were two keys to the success of the Inver Grove Heights change. One: A citizen did the heavy lifting. I researched the ordinances of several other cities and drafted a proposed Inver Grove ordinance. This meant that city staff, commissioners, and council members could simply edit the draft instead of spending hours doing the research and drafting themselves.

And two: The planning commission sponsored a survey that showed 79 percent of respondents were in favor of market gardening. It’s hard for officials to look past such overwhelming support. I encourage other suburban dwellers to pursue such a zoning change. There are at least two model ordinances to follow now in Minnesota. The ordinance I helped developed can be found in my city’s ordinance under this heading: 10-15-33: COMMUNITY GARDENS, MARKET GARDENS, AND PERSONAL GARDENS.  Momentum is building. With a little hard work and a lot of patience, your suburb could be next!

—Story by Dawn Gaetke

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