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Minneapolis zoning changes would expand gardening options

Everything from the keeping of honeybees to establishing urban farms is on the table.

Proposed Minneapolis zoning changes would allow hoop houses on residential lots and in community gardens.

If one of your dreams has been to leave city life behind and move to the country where you could have a serious garden, I have good news. Country living could be coming to your backyard in Minneapolis.

The gardening options under consideration include everything from keeping honeybees to establishing urban farms that include community gardens, composting, farm stands, hoop houses and market gardens. 

Minneapolis now prohibits growing food as a business in a city yard, but that would change with a series of proposed new zoning rules. 

“I would like to see someday where somebody is getting their livelihood off this,” said Council Member Cam Gordon, who, along with his staff, spent the winter talking to gardeners about what they need to be more productive in an urban setting.

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Those sessions produced a series of proposed zoning changes to allow using more land in the city for growing crops.

“In the urban farm scene, where we’re dealing with small plots of land, we need massive amounts of fertility,” says Russ Henry, who was one of those city farmers at the planning table. “We need to make it economically viable to grow on the smaller plots of land that cost a lot of money to rent or buy in the city.”

As part of the proposed changes, growers wouild be allowed to sell their crops from new market gardens and existing community gardens, but sales would be limited to one day a week for 25 weeks. That provision is already drawing fire.

“A lot of our neighborhoods that are really high density already have major parking problems,” said Council Member Meg Tuthill, Ward 10, who thinks 25 sale days a year might be more than residents will tolerate. She points out that the city limits residents to two garage sales a year.

“I’d rather see them in a place that’s zoned, like mini-markets,” said Tuthill, who thinks the idea of several vendors in one location would ease the parking crunch and also be more attractive for shoppers.

Gordon acknowledges that parking in a neighborhood with a popular market garden could be a problem, but he likes the idea of changing the zoning to allow gardeners to sell what they grow.

“Any effort we can make to expand gardening by residents on their own property, I support,” said Council Member Lisa Goodman, Ward 7,  a gardener with her own hobby farm away from the city. 

“I am not a big fan of taking buildable lots in residential areas and turning those into gardens.  This is not Detroit,” said Goodman.

Burned and deserted houses in Detroit were torn down and the land was made available to gardeners at no charge last spring. There were a lot of takers who produced a lot of gardens.

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“Sadly, if you give the neighbors a choice of a neighbor or a garden (next door), of course, they’ll choose a garden,’” said Goodman, who thinks the location of community and market gardens needs regulation by the city.

Hoop houses

The proposed changes would also allow hoop houses on residential lots and in community gardens.

A hoop house is built of pipe and plastic sheeting, usually with a curved top.  The proposal would allow hoop houses to be 1,000 square feet or 50 feet by 20 feet and 12 feet tall.

Hoop houses could stand for six months of the year in the rear 50 feet of a residential property at least 20 feet from a habitable building.

“I don’t want to come out into my back yard and hear the plastic flapping, I really don’t,” said Tuthill.

Hoop houses are used for starting plants in the spring and the storage of garden tools during the summer months. They are also advertised as a place where crops can be grown through the winter, although Minneapolis would limit their use to 180 days.

“If you have a house on your lot and you also have a garage, you shouldn’t also be able to put up a thousand-foot hoop house,” said Goodman, who thinks 12 feet is too tall in a city where fences cannot be taller than 6 feet. 

Gordon has a wait-and-see attitude about the hoop houses. “I’m kind of curious to see how that will work as well,” Gordon said. “To see how responsible people will be to maintain their hoop house and keep it clean and safe.”

Tuthill said:  “We want to encourage people to garden, we want them to grow as much as they can, but this is an urban environment, this is not farm country and we have to be considerate of our neighbors. Everyone has to give a little.”

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Two Cities blog, which covers Minneapolis and St. Paul City Halls, is made possible in part by grants from The Saint Paul Foundation and the Carolyn Foundation.