Almost 100 people showed up for an urban farming open house on Tuesday evening at the downtown library. The meeting was the first action step following the local food conference in April, and it was opened by City Council President Ben Stuckart.
“I’m in this because I want a goat,” Stuckart said, before he explained that the municipal code regulates what types of gardening and animal keep is allowed in residential areas.
Stuckart said Tuesday’s open house was an invitation to share ideas and bring up potential changes in the code that would make urban farming easier.
“If you have an idea about urban farming or local food I want you to write it down before you leave,” Stuckart said.
City planner Tirrell Black gave a more detailed presentation on the current municipal code.
Urban farming is not just regulated by the city, she said, but it also has to follow Department of Ecology and Spokane Regional Health Department regulations.
“Private gardens are considered residential landscaping,” Black said, showing a picture of a garden where raised vegetable beds covered most of the front yard. “But breeding and raising of fowl is considered agriculture.”
Within city limits four small animals is the maximum allowed per dwelling.
That number includes cats and dogs, but excludes small caged animals like hamsters and birds.
“Private developments can be more restrictive with these rules, but they can’t be more liberal,” Black said.
She encouraged people to consider the impact even small urban farming projects may have on neighbors.
Questions from the audience included whether keeping goats, for instance, would require a permit and what role animal control will play if more chickens and goats move into the city.
Stuckart said that Portland requires that goat owners obtain a permit, but Cleveland doesn’t.
“It really depends on what you want to do,” Stuckart said. “Beekeepers are the only ones who require permits in Spokane at this point.”
After the presentations were over, people milled around and wrote questions and suggestions on large posters.
Dan “Elf” Bruce, who lives in West Central and works with the Spokane Public Market, said he was happy to see so many people there.
“I am excited to see an intellectual convergence on food, climate and economic security,” Bruce said.
Together with his partner Margaret Ruhl, he works on making local produce available to people in West Central and other neighborhoods.
Ruhl said the meeting and the ideas flying around the room were a great reminder of how government should work.
“People are the government,” she said. “They are here and they are part of it because they care about where their food comes from.”
Michael LaScoula, Spokane Regional Health District technical adviser on environmental resources, said urban farming does bring some health concerns like flies, animal waste and improperly managed compost piles.
“Growing it here brings the price down so it becomes more available to people,” LaScoula said.
Stuckart said several work groups will be formed based on ideas gathered at the meeting. A technical group will convene to write any code changes.
“We want to move this forward,” Stuckart said. “Hopefully we will be voting on it in January.”