Mayor has concerns about city expanding farm gate sales
Urban agriculture moves forward, but Mayor Ed Holder is concerned about fairness and food safety
London is moving toward making it easier for urban farmers to sell what they grow, but Mayor Ed Holder has some misgivings about the trend.
At Monday's planning committee meeting, a zoning amendment was approved that will make it possible for people who grow food to sell it in more places inside the city limits.
As it stands now, London farmers are allowed to sell produce they grow in areas zoned agricultural. But, there is no agricultural land located inside London's urban growth boundary, a line that encircles the city's core and includes planning rules aimed at limiting urban sprawl.
Urban farmers can sell their produce under the same bylaw that lays out the rules for garage sales. But like garage sales, each address can only host two sales a year.
On Monday, the city's planning committee passed a zoning amendment that would allow produce to be sold inside London's urban growth boundary on lands zoned urban reserve. These are typically empty areas awaiting redevelopment. The motion passed by committee also calls on staff to draft rules to expand the number of days when urban farmers are allowed to sell home-grown produce in their driveways.
The moves to relax rules around urban farming are an offshoot of London's urban agricultural strategy, which council approved in 2017.
Backers of the strategy say it's part of a positive trend to reduce the distance food must travel and bring people closer to the source of their food and those who grow it.
Jeremy Horrell is a board member of Urban Roots London, a not-for-profit organic vegetable farm near Highbury Avenue and Hamilton Road.
"It's an opportunity for people to come, congregate and gather around food and experience that connection to the land," he told the committee on Monday. "And the connection to affordable food is really important."
Urban Roots has sold produce at their farm for two years. If approved by council, the updated bylaw will allow them to continue those so-called farm gate sales free of any legal limbo.
But not everyone is in love with the push toward urban agriculture.
At the meeting, Holder expressed a number of concerns, including worries about food safety and what he said could be an unfair playing field for the city's established food retailers.
"If someone chooses to sell produce at the end of their driveway, we do not necessarily know when those happen unless by inspection and I'm not confident that we have or want that kind of reinforcement of inspections," he said. "I think there are issues of liability, there are issues of fairness."
John Fleming, the city's head of planning, said the bylaw amendment follows the direction of the urban agriculture strategy, which was widely studied by staff and debated by council. It was passed in 2017, a year before Holder became mayor.
"What people expressed is that they wanted to grow food in their neighbourhoods," said Fleming. "And they wanted the opportunity to sell it in their neighbourhoods as well."
Coun. Stephen Turner said produce grown in backyards doesn't come with high food safety risks. He pointed out that animal husbandry isn't included as part of the city's urban agriculture strategy.
The amendment passed in committee by a five to one vote, with Holder casting the lone vote in opposition.