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Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference

Roxbury Community College
March 9, 2013

“When we talk about the future of economic development in Massachusetts, we’re talking about you,” state economic development secretary Greg Bialecki told the audience at the first Massachusetts Urban Farming Conference. Bialecki is among many state and city officials who see a robust future for urban agriculture, with the potential to transform cities and towns by creating jobs in urban neighborhoods, reclaiming vacant land, and increasing citizens’ access to fresh and nutritious produce.

To this end, the City of Boston has been working with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to rethink the zoning parameters around urban agriculture and enable the sector to grow. Since 2010, the BRA has been developing a set of zoning rules that will open the doors for more farm production in the city, says BRA planner and project leader Tad Read.

The proposed plans, which will be vetted throughout the city’s neighborhoods this spring and brought to the BRA board for approval in the late summer or fall, will allow for rooftop farming and for public and private land to be converted into farms, says Read. Concerns about how farms are sited with respect to their neighbors will require those that are more than 10,000 square feet to undergo a design review, a process that could draw architects and designers into collaboration with farm entrepreneurs.

Being able to reap the rewards of this new sector also will require collaboration among entrepreneurs, residents, and city officials. But if the new zoning is approved later this year, the potential of urban farming would make all the hard work of sprouting a new industry here well worth it.

Imagine taking an elevator to a downtown rooftop farm and picking sweet melons from a field that overlooks the Boston skyline. Or popping into the corner bodega for a carton of eggs fresh from city chickens. When a city’s vacant lots and rooftops are converted for farm enterprises, they can provide fresh food, reduce runoff, and make urban landscapes more beautiful. But city farms also have the oppor-tunity to engage residents with food and agriculture in a very immediate way — as neighbors.