How Law & Policy Can Support Growing Food Where You Live
In this section:
Local Laws and Policies that Support Growing Food
Local Development Policies that Promote Growing Food Where You Live
State Laws that Promote Growing Food Where You Live
Opportunities for Local Healthy Food Policy Advocacy
Local Laws and Policies that Support Growing Food
Few local governments have laws that specifically promote or regulate gardening for renters. Some local governments explicitly allow contractual and property relationships to take priority over the right to grow food.4
Examples of local laws that specifically support growing food in rental housing include:
- exempting gardens from plant height restrictions allows tenants to grow a variety of food specific to their cultural preference
- requiring ground-level units in new multifamily housing developments to have dedicated private yards that may be used for gardening
Renters, rental housing communities, and landlords can also take affirmative steps to support growing food in rental housing. For example, renters may arrange an agreement with their landlord to grow food in a private garden or request community gardening space for their building. Residents of assisted living or nursing home facilities may also have opportunities to grow food where they live if their living community has a facility garden.5
Further, many public housing authorities recognize the value of gardens for residents to grow food. Here are a few examples of public housing initiatives creating space for residents to grow food where they live:
- In Seattle, Washington, many of the public housing buildings managed by the King County Housing Authority have facilitated residents growing food through container gardens, raised beds, indoor gardens, and individual plots in community gardens. Notably, a resident-built garden at Wayland Arms earned an Award of Merit from the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.
- In Denver, Colorado, the Denver Housing Authority partners with Denver Urban Gardens to establish community gardens for public housing residents. For example, the Tapiz Community Garden has been run by the residents of two public housing buildings since 2012.
- New York City Housing Authority’s “Garden and Greening Program” supports over 700 gardens and connects residents with technical assistance from GreenThumb, which provides free seeds and bulbs to resident gardeners, gardening instruction, and additional support. NYCHA’s long history of gardening competitions demonstrates the commitment of the housing authority to supporting tenant gardens over the past 50 years.
Examples of Local Laws that Support Growing Food in Rental Housing
This local law requires landlords to maintain the exterior premises of their rental buildings, including plant growth, and expressly exempts cultivated gardens from the city’s plant height restrictions.
Quincy, Fla., Code § 14-154(b)(3)
This local law requires ground-level units in new multifamily housing developments to have dedicated private yards that may be used for gardening:
“Each dwelling unit with direct outside access at the ground level shall have available a private yard or open space of at least three hundred (300) square feet dedicated to the exclusive use of the residents of said unit. The private yard space may contain patios, decks, fences, landscaping, gardens, and other outdoor facilities.”
– Concord, NH, Code § 28-4-5(d)(4)
Manufactured Home Parks
Some local governments have taken steps to encourage or expressly require that manufactured home parks allow tenants to have gardens. For example, some localities:
- expressly recognize gardening as a permitted use in manufactured home parks
- imply gardening is a permitted use
- encourage edible gardens in manufactured home park developments
- require open space that may include community gardens
Manufactured home parks can also take affirmative steps to permit and even encourage residents to grow food within the park:
- Royal Palms Mobile Home Park in North Carolina expressly allows residents to grow vegetable gardens so long as the garden is a “reasonable” size.
- Mapleton Mobile Home Park in Boulder, Colorado is a mobile home park owned by a nonprofit and has a homeowner’s association. After advocacy by park residents, Mapleton’s rules and regulations now permit raising chickens, bees, and rabbits, and the park permits residents to maintain vegetable gardens, as well as a community garden.
Examples of Local Laws that Support Growing Food in Manufactured Home Parks
This local law expressly recognizes that “[n]urseries, greenhouses and gardens, where products are not to be sold” are permitted uses for manufactured home subdivisions. Pharr, Tex., Code § 1.18, subd. (A)(5)
This local law implies gardening is a permitted use in manufactured home parks:
“Each mobile home site shall be sodded in all areas not actually used for the mobile home or for patios, storage, parking, or gardening.”
–South St. Paul, Minn., Code § 188-133(d)(14)
This local law encourages edible gardens in manufactured home park developments:
“Incorporating the following sustainable elements into development is permitted and encouraged: . . . community garden plots or raised garden beds . . . food-producing or edible landscaping . . .”
–Lexington, NC, Code § 4.11.3
This local law requires manufactured home park developments provide residents with open space that may include community gardens:
“At least twenty (20) percent of the gross land area of the mobile home park shall be designed and developed as open space. Open space shall be defined as an open area designed and developed for use by the occupants of the development including recreation, play areas and courts, or gardens.”
–Conover, NC, Code § 60.5
Common Interest Communities
Local governments may or may not be able to override covenants, conditions, and restrictions in common interest communities that impact residents growing food where they live. Also, some local governments expressly permit contractual and property relationships to take priority over the right to grow food. For example, Laredo, Texas allows the creation and maintenance of home gardens but provides that “[n]othing herein shall be construed or interpreted to in any way waive, modify, vacate, or in any way affect any lease, deed restriction, covenant, condition, restriction or the regulations of any home owners association.”5
However, local laws regulating water use can incidentally remove barriers to growing food in common interest communities. For example, Denver, Colorado prohibits restrictive covenants that require turf grass, and North Las Vegas prohibits “private covenants, conditions, deed clauses” that prevent water efficient landscaping or require turf.6
Even without local government help, residents can petition their association boards to either support and develop private or community garden plots, or simply reduce restrictions on gardening. In addition to personal garden plots, residents can advocate for community gardening in undeveloped plots or drainage areas. For example, Mapleton, Utah allows community gardens on commonly held parcels, and Galesburg, Illinois allows a community garden as a conditional use for land in a development.7
To learn about considerations for developing community gardens, consult Public Health Law Center’s Community Gardening: Policy Reference Guide.
Local Land Use & Development Policies that Promote Growing Food Where You Live
Land use and development policies affect local economies and influence the physical environments of cities and counties. Planning departments play a primary role in determining where food is grown, typically through zoning ordinances. Zoning outlines where agricultural activities are permitted or prohibited in a community. Often, zoning ordinances are not very clear about what agricultural activities are permitted on non-agricultural land.
There are numerous options available to local governments to support their residents in growing food where they live through:
- urban agricultural ordinances that allow or support agricultural activities on local residential, commercial, or industrial properties
- agricultural overlay districts that include incentives or permissions to grow food
- planning commission requirements for subdivisions that regulate open spaces, agricultural activities, and aesthetic concerns
- tax incentives in municipal community development efforts
- tax incentives for property owners that engage in urban agriculture on certain vacant parcels
- Planned Unit Developments that expressly include agricultural activities
Planned Unit Developments can also combine multiple local development goals, such as prioritizing both food production and affordable housing. For example, the Troy Gardens development in Madison, Wisconsin allocated 66% of its housing units for low-to-moderate income residents and contains both an urban farm and 327-plot community garden.
For further reading on how community planning can support local access to healthy food, consult the Healthy Food Policy Project’s Planning Resource.
Examples of Land Use & Development Policies that Support Growing Food
These local laws create agricultural overlay districts that include incentives or permissions to grow food:
- Southampton, New York has an Agricultural Overlay District, which retains existing development rights in the district but permits property owners to sell those rights to property owners outside of the district and allows the town to pursue economic growth while also preserving prime agricultural land. Southampton, NY, Code § 330-47
- Grand Terrace, California has an agricultural overlay district on top of an otherwise residential zone. Grand Terrace, Cal., Municipal Code § 18.53
These local laws provide planning commission requirements for subdivisions that regulate open spaces and agricultural activities:
- Howard County, Maryland’s Rural Residential Zoning District permits cluster forms of residential development in tandem with activities such as farming, food hubs, and community-supported agriculture. Howard County, Md., Zoning Code § 105.0
- Columbia, Missouri has a rural cluster density bonus in one- and two-family dwelling zones; increases the density allowance for developers by 10 percent if 50 percent of the gross land area of the parcel is protected from development; and expressly permits community gardens in these zones. Columbia, Mo., Code §§ 29-3.2, 29-4.1(b)
San Francisco, California’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zone allows local property owners to apply for property tax reductions after using land for agricultural use for five years. San Francisco, Cal., Admin. Code §§ 53A.1 et seq.
These local laws expressly include agricultural activities in Planned Unit Developments (PUDs):
- Blaine, Washington permits community gardens as a minor amenity of PUDs. Blaine, Wash., Municipal Code § 17.68.120
- La Quinta, California requires 30 percent of a PUD be set aside as a common area and allows community gardens as a part of this area. La Quinta, Cal., Municipal Code § 9.60.330(D)(3)
State Laws that Promote Growing Food Where You Live
In 2014, California passed the California Neighborhood Food Act, which expanded the rights of some tenants to engage in personal agriculture. The Legislature’s findings specifically addressed the large number of Californians that do not own their residences and face obstacles to growing food where they live as a result. Recognizing the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the premises, the California law requires landlords of one- to two-unit residential buildings to permit tenants to engage in personal agriculture in portable containers in their backyard.8
Common Interest Communities
The California Neighborhood Food Act also expanded the rights of homeowners to engage in personal agriculture in their backyard in response to the restrictions placed on growing food by many homeowner associations. The law supports residents’ personal agriculture activities by prohibiting unreasonably restrictive regulation in the association’s governing documents.9 However, the law exempts reasonable restrictions that would not “significantly increase the cost of engaging in personal agriculture or significantly decrease its efficiency.”10
Colorado state law has established that restrictive covenants, bylaws, and rules or regulations of common interest communities that require turf grass are contrary to public policy and unenforceable.11 However, this law does not prohibit these communities from adopting “design or aesthetic guidelines or rules that require drought-tolerant vegetative landscapes or regulate the type, number, and placement of drought-tolerant plantings,” which could still result in negative impacts to residents seeking to grow food on their property.
State preemption can impose harmful restrictions on local government laws that could encourage growing food and provide residents with protections from restrictive contracts and covenants. This can even happen when a law intends to advance the right to grow food or claims to ensure state law will ensure that residents receive special protections.
For example, a recent Florida law recognizes the need for local food access, encourages residents to grow food, and regulates the development of sustainable vegetables and fruit gardens, yet the law expressly preempts any local regulation of vegetable gardens.12 Although this law attempts to secure a right to grow food, it prevents local governments from taking further action to protect this right. Under a preemptive law like this, local governments could still act indirectly to promote vegetable gardens by focusing regulation on restrictive covenants and contracts that require turf grass lawns and limiting water use for grass lawns. However, in this case, it is important to note that this is not Florida’s only preemptive law affecting local regulation in this area. Florida also preempts local regulation of manufactured home parks, including a mobile home park owner’s obligation to maintain the appearance of common areas.13
For further reading about preemption, consult the Healthy Food Policy Project’s Why Preemption Is Bad for Local Healthy Eating Policy Movements and Public Health Law Center’s preemption resources.
Opportunities for Local Healthy Food Policy Advocacy
There are multiple policy avenues that can support people growing food where they live. For example, communities and local governments interested in improving their local policy environments can consider:
- Creating incentives that encourage local and homegrown food in rental housing, manufactured home parks, nursing homes, assisted living, and senior living communities
- Using licensing standards to require landlords to provide gardening space in multi-unit rental housing in designated yards, rooftops, and other shared spaces
- Leveraging local zoning laws to support local and homegrown food, including permitting growing food in all zones and prohibiting gardening restrictions in new developments
- Limiting contracts and covenants that unreasonably restrict homegrown food and supporting similar state action
- Repealing restrictive laws and regulations pertaining to growing food, including laws that prohibit edible gardening or urban agriculture, restrict gardens to only back and/or side yards, and mandate lawn or other restrictive yard appearance
- Encouraging public housing authorities to inform and assist tenants in meeting federal physical inspection standards for their gardens and promote gardening to meet tenant community service requirements
- Supporting edible landscaping on public land, foraging, and community gardening, particularly in areas with multi-unit rental housing and small lot sizes
- Resisting preemptive laws that limit local government action to support local food growers
- Supporting state tax incentives and building standards that encourage developers to permit property residents to grow food
Residents of rental housing, manufactured home parks, and common interest communities deserve to grow food where they live. While many leases, property covenants, and association rules attempt to limit this right, local laws, development policies, and community-led initiatives demonstrate the many, varied opportunities to support growing food in these environments and the importance of homegrown food to nutrition, food security, and cultural connection.
Next: Common Questions in Rental Housing
4See, e.g., Laredo, Tex., Code § 13-84 (allowing the creation and maintenance of home gardens but provides that “[n]othing herein shall be construed or interpreted to in any way waive, modify, vacate, or in any way affect any lease, deed restriction, covenant, condition, restriction or the regulations of any home owners association.”).
5The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services permits senior living facilities and nursing homes to prepare meals using food grown in their facility garden so long as it meets the applicable food safety guidelines. 42 CFR § 483.60(i)(1)(ii).
6Laredo, Tex., Code § 13-84.
7Denver, Colo., Code § 57-100; North Las Vegas, Nev., Code § 17.24.060(B)(7)(g).
8Mapleton, Utah, Code § 18.82D.100; Galesburg, Ill., Code § 152.069(C)(6).
9Cal. Civ. Code § 1940.10(b).
10Cal. Civ. Code § 4750(b) (“Any provision of a governing document, as defined in Section 4150, shall be void and unenforceable if it effectively prohibits or unreasonably restricts the use of a homeowner’s backyard for personal agriculture.”); Cal. Civ. Code § 4150 (“’Governing documents’ means the declaration and any other documents, such as bylaws, operating rules, articles of incorporation, or articles of association, which govern the operation of the common interest development or association.”).
11Cal. Civ. Code § 4750(c)(1)-(2).
12Colo. Stat. § 37-60-126. The law also deems unenforceable any similar rules or covenants that prohibit or limit the installation or use of drought-tolerant vegetative landscapes.
13Fla. Stat. § 604.71.
14Fla. Stat. § 723.004 (largely preempting local regulation of mobile home park relationships); Fla. Stat. § 723.022 (regulating mobile home park owner obligations).