What’s the beef with backyard beefsteaks?

I support an Encinitas that embraces our agricultural past and uses it to launch us into a small-scale farming renaissance that could be our future.

Encinitas is lucky to still have the remnants of our historic flower-growing industry. We also have landowners with historic avocado and citrus orchards from before the city’s incorporation in 1986 and a batch of new, young residents interested in locally grown food. We have willing growers, eager buyers and the perfect climate for year-round food production. If residents want to grow food for sale locally, we should encourage that and make it easy.

Unfortunately, recent interpretations of our current city codes do just the opposite. For example, Encinitas city planners have requested an unreasonable amount of information from the owner of a 2-acre heritage farm, Coral Tree Farm, to prove that the farm has been in consistent agricultural use for the last 28 years in order to retain her right to farm. No public agency, not even the IRS, asks people to keep records 28 years.

Similarly, the planning department has suggested to the proposed Encinitas Community Garden that they might need to use asphalt inside the garden because the planners are worried about dust.

This perspective reveals a striking lack of understanding about the environmental realities of a community garden. Dust comes from barren, unmaintained land in any zone, whether it’s front yards or the trails abutting the railroad tracks, not from beds of vegetables.

We need to revise our city codes to show residents who add value to the community that we value them, too.

If someone wants to sell citrus, vegetables or eggs from their backyard garden, the city should not impose a lengthy, expensive permitting process that makes small-scale agriculture impractical.

Here’s my suggestion: Instead of starting with the premise that urban agriculture creates lots of problems that we need to aggressively regulate, let’s begin with the idea that through urban agriculture we have an opportunity to build the kind of community we want to live in. Let’s be creative and practical about encouraging safe, responsible, and productive farming.

We could ask: What do land owners want to do with their land?

What farming or other outdoor experiences do people who live in Encinitas want to have locally? If families want to take their children to see a pair of pygmy goats, pick citrus, or take a class on seed saving, let’s make that possible. If, as a city, we want food to travel fewer miles between producer and consumer and we want more people to experience the joy of pulling a carrot from the loamy soil or plucking a heavy tomato from an earthy-smelling vine, then we need to create the legal and administrative structures to support that vision.

I believe neighborhood agriculture should be allowed by right in any zone. It should be okay for me to walk across the street and buy my eggs on Saturday morning from my neighbor. Organic gardens under a certain size should be able to sell during daytime hours.

We can require online registration so we know where food comes from and to ensure safe agricultural practices, but other than that, no minor use permits, no traffic mitigation studies, no expensive fees.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating uses that look like Knott’s Berry Farm. That’s a different story.

But there are a range of uses between a backyard garden and Knott’s Berry Farm, and I think our city codes should recognize and allow for varying degrees of use of one’s land, instead of a rigid and under inclusive standard.

Ultimately, urban agriculture creates food independence, promotes consciousness around healthy eating and, and just as important, provides us with an ever-dwindling oasis of nature in an increasingly developed environment that is a joy to experience.

We need to be honest about what is at stake. As a city we can remove barriers and allow our agriculture properties to evolve by providing a way for orchards, gardens and greenhouse sites to make money using their land to grow.

Or, we can make it difficult, expensive, and so administratively cumbersome that we virtually guarantee the extinction of our heritage as a flower, fruit, and food-producing city. Those lands will then become subdivisions. What do you want for Encinitas? Let your city council know at council@encinitasca.gov.

Catherine Blakespear is an Encinitas City Council candidate in November 2014 and attorney representing Coral Tree Farm pro bono in the owner’s dispute with the city regarding whether the farm has lost the grandfathered “right to farm” on the family’s historic avocado and fruit orchard.

 

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