Plowing Over: Can Urban Farming Save Detroit and Other Declining Cities? Will the Law Allow It?

This article from the American Bar Association Journal addresses the legal intricacies of urban farming in Chicago and other cities- how organizations are acquiring land, what zoning challenges they face, and how some city governments are bending their own rules to make way for the new green industry.
The article also links to three urban farming resources (in PDF) that are available for public view:
Growing Food in the City: The Production Potential of Detroit’s Vacant Land
Re-Imagining a More Sustainable Cleveland
Vacant Land Management in Philadelphia

It’s a warm day in April, and Skip Wiener is showing off the crown jewel of gardens that the Urban Tree Connection has created out of 29 vacant lots in the poverty-ridden Haddington neighborhood on Philadelphia’s west side.

The site, tucked away in the center of a block of 60 homes, once was used by a construction firm for storage. When Wiener, the founder and director of the UTC, was first alerted about the property by a local block captain, it was overgrown, riddled with industrial waste, and a haven for drug dealers and prostitutes.

It was just what the UTC was looking for. The nonprofit organization supports renewal efforts in low-income communities by turning abandoned open spaces into various types of gardens, including some devoted to growing fruits and vegetables.

The site is now called the Neighborhood Food Central Production Farm. Any remaining debris has been pushed to the side; wood chips have been sprinkled over the driveway; and, in the center, neat rows of vegetables are growing, marked by cheerful hand-painted signs announcing such crops as potatoes, bok choy, collards and cabbages.

The “farm” is special, partly because of its comparatively large size—two-thirds of an acre—but also because it’s the only property over which the UTC enjoys actual legal possession. On the others, says Wiener, the organization’s founder and executive director, “we’re basically squatting.”

The UTC’s farm typifies a growing but still uncertain movement to bring agriculture back to America’s cities.

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