Something's Growing in Leon County, New Zoning Codes Are Coming with It

Ripe City
Posted at 3:40 PM, Aug 04, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-04 17:13:02-04

TALLAHASSEE, FL (#WTXLDigital) -  A new food trend is growing in Leon County, but the regulations for it don't yet exist. Urban agriculture can range from small community gardens to larger scale farms - all located in populated areas, such as residential or business zones.

However, urban agriculture businesses are operating without zoning regulations. To make these businesses officially legal, the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department is updating its zoning codes.

"It was time for us to step up and take the initiative and make sure that we can regulate it and make sure it's legal so people can operate in conformance with the law,"says Jiwuan Haley, senior planner in the Land Use Division of Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department.

She says the department encourages urban agriculture developments in the area and looks to have the project completed by late spring 2016.

While community gardens have existed in the area for years, the need for the zoning changes happened after business like Ripe City Urban Farm started to sell for a profit. This draws additional traffic and people says Debra Thomas, senior planner in the Comprehensive Planning Division of Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department.

Without the regulations, businesses like Ripe City could be potentially cited says Haley. Past owners of urban farms have already been affected by property instability.

Ten Speed Greens owned the farm before Ripe City but eventually sold it says David Newman, Ripe City farm manager and one of the owners. “They were concerned about property stability issues. So since we are farming in a residential area, we are susceptible to development. So one day the owner might want to develop this property and sell it,” says Newman.

And the landowner, Michael Rosen, is selling the land. A “For Sale” signs sits on the edge of the property.

The farm’s future is uncertain depending on whether the new owner will allow the farm to stay or not.

If the farm is forced to leave, Rosen says he will give the farm enough time to collect their produce from the season and offer them another piece of land to use.

Newman says while Rosen has been supportive of the project, he understands and respects his right to sell it. 

Despite the lack of zoning regulations and now the risk of having to leave, Newman says the impact of Ripe City has been positive.

“People are generally inclined to want to learn about this project, want to learn more about where the food comes from and increase that transparency, reconnecting with the food” says Newman.

Molly Jameson, the Sustainable Agriculture and Community Food Systems extension agent for Leon County says she thinks losing Ripe City would be “kind of a big hit” because places like Ripe City and iGrow, an education-based urban farm, have helped “bring farming back to city people who don’t have a connection with their food anymore.”

Newman says relocating the farm would be like starting over because of the sustainable ecosystem that would need to be created again.

As a benefit to the community, having locally grown food helps improve the health of the community says Tessa Schreiner, the Recycling and Sustainability manager for the Office of Resource Stewardship in Leon County.

“As late as you can pick or as ripe as you can pick fruits and veggies or other food, it has a higher nutrient content. So if you grow food that is in California, they have to pick it early so that it’s ripe by the time it gets to your plate. Well since it’s spent less time on the vine, it has fewer nutrients, so it’s actually less healthy for you to eat food that is grown further away,” says Schreiner.

She also says that buying local means the money stays local. The money goes back to the local economy instead of leaving it, which happens when buying from outside sources says Schreiner.

While the zoning regulations still have some time before they become official, by the end of August Haley says they plan to have a survey on the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning Department website for people to submit and give their input about urban agriculture.