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City Council votes to increase connections to healthful, local, affordable food

Portland, ORE. – On June 13, 2012, Portland City Council made a significant step toward increasing access to healthful, affordable food for all Portlanders by adopting the Urban Food Zoning Code Update.
 
In a related action, City Council also passed a resolution to establish baseline indicators and adopt goals for the Portland food system. Developed in collaboration with community partners and building on initiatives such as the Climate Action and Portland Plans, the goals will be updated every two years in a report to the Planning and Sustainability Commission and City Council.
 
Mayor Adams began the meeting by saying, “Food is a complex public policy area that has many connections to our community's health and vitality. This project is a great example of how we can connect the four goals of the Portland Plan: making our city a prosperous, healthy, educated and equitable place.”
 
Urban Food Zoning Code Update
The Urban Food Zoning Code Update project, led by the Bureau of Planning and Sustainability (BPS) in partnership with the Oregon Public Health Institute (OPHI) and members of the community, developed a new set of regulations to support growing, buying and selling food at a scale that is appropriate to residential neighborhoods and helps build community.
 
The new regulations address community gardens, farmers markets and market gardens, as well as alternative food distribution methods such as community sponsored agriculture (CSA) and food buying clubs. Because even a small cost can be a barrier for some, this proposal has very little in the way of permit fees, land use reviews and the like. Almost all activities will be allowed outright if standards are met.
 
Created through a dynamic 18-month public process, the Urban Food Zoning Code Update involved many community and government stakeholders and the establishment of a Code Development Advisory Group (CDAG). Many CDAG members testified at the City Council hearing. Michelle Lasley, president of the North Portland Food Buying Club and CDAG member, said her club was “pleased with the proposed code because it helps our mission of bridging the gap between farm and city.”
 
Katy Kolker, co-chair of the urban agriculture committee of the Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council and also a member of the CDAG, said that each element of the proposal was the result of a comprehensive process and an incredible amount of collaboration and citizen involvement. “This is a significant junction in time when there is both great interest and creativity blossoming in our city around urban food production and distribution and also critical need for affordable foods,” she testified.
 
Many Years in the Making
This project addresses long-standing issues around access to affordable, healthful food. Many community members have advocated for a review of the zoning code to expand healthful food options and affirm the City's commitment to forging a stronger connection between Portland residents and their food sources. As far back as 2002, the Portland Multnomah Food Policy Council had identified issues in the zoning code that were obstacles to distributing and growing food in the city. Steve Cohen, BPS food policy and program manager, said, “Those early discussions were informed and amplified by the work of the Peak Oil Task Force, Climate Action and Portland Plan, as well as numerous in-the-ground projects.”
 
Partnerships with Multnomah County and Other Health Partners
Two key principles used in developing the new regulations were health and equity. Multnomah County awarded a Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant to BPS and OPHI to help ensure health and equity were considered in this project and that decisions related to urban food production and distribution maximized public health benefits.
 
Amy Gilroy of OPHI, commented, “We know that good nutrition is an important part of chronic disease prevention, but many Portland residents do not have adequate access to appropriate and affordable healthful food. And similar to national trends, they struggle to consume five or more fruits and vegetables every day. Only about one-third of all Multnomah county residents are achieving this recommendation.”
 
Next Steps/Implementation to Focus on Education and Assistance
The Oregon Food Bank, in a letter, stated, “We believe that addressing hunger requires partnerships between the public and private sectors, and we are excited to see the city of Portland make access to food a priority through this zoning code update.”
 
This project is only the beginning, as BPS will continue to work with other bureaus and community partners to affirm the City's commitment to producing and distributing food in a way that promotes equity, and economic, environmental and personal health. Next steps will focus on education and hands-on assistance through existing BPS programs such as Urban Growth Bounty classes, Be Resourceful, and Re-Think, as well as continuing our work with community and health partners.
 
Examples of How the Code Revisions Will Work

 

  • Katy Kolker described her fiancé’s market garden in a residential zone, which is currently not allowed. “The farm provides weekly fresh produce to CSA subscribers and to the food pantry, and the neighbors love it,” she said. “Vandalism at the site has gone down considerably, and a children's garden program has started up. The proposed code changes will make it possible for this and many other market gardens of appropriate scale to operate in residential neighborhoods. This is just one example of how the zoning code changes will increase opportunities for self-sufficiency, healthy eating and entrepreneurship in our fine city.”
  • Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO) offers this example: “For over seven years, EMO has been helping congregations connect to local farmers through farmers' tables, CSAs and food buying clubs, as well as supporting congregations and developing community gardens and kitchens. Zoning has been a barrier to these projects on several occasions. The recommended code will provide strong support and clear guidelines for these activities as we expand this work. We believe institutions like congregations often have the parking and space to ensure these activities can take place in neighborhoods with minimal impacts to the surrounding area.”
  • Chana Andler, vice president of the Montavilla Food Buying Club, told the City Council, “Our club places great importance on being good neighbors, and our members find detailed membership agreements about being courteous and timely with their pickups helpful. Our club steering committee unanimously supports the current proposals. We feel they're flexible, workable and help establish food buying clubs as a legitimate urban food activity. They provide fair guidelines for setting up and running pick-up sites in residential neighborhoods, which protect the residential character of those neighborhoods but still work for the buying club and its members.”
    For more information about the Urban Food Zoning Code Update, please visit www.portlandonline.com/bps/foodcode.
     

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