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Urban Agriculture Policy Win in Birmingham

Key Messages BtF_Birm

  • Urban agriculture can increase healthy options for low-income residents and boost economic opportunities in food deserts.
  • HKHC leaders play critical liaison roles to connect city officials, health advocates and community members.
  • The partnership helps residents create sustainable agricultural projects.

Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) of Jefferson County recently celebrated the passage of the Urban Agriculture Ordinance that intends to increase access to healthy food options in Birmingham, AL.

The HKHC lead agency, United Way of Central Alabama, will coordinate an outreach strategy to guide residents, associations, and nonprofits on how to apply for a permit to start their own urban agriculture project on vacant property, such as a community garden, farmers’ market or public market.

HKHC Project Director Kadie Whatley and the Health Action Partnership saw the need for this type of ordinance so that urban agriculture activities are protected and encouraged in the City of Birmingham.  United Way of Central Alabama is an anchor organization for the Jefferson County Health Action Partnership, a collaborative group of more than 90 organizations dedicated to making Jefferson County a healthier place to live, work, learn and play.

The process began in September 2011 when the partnership submitted a city resolution to the Birmingham Planning Commission. With comprehensive planning meetings occurring simultaneously, city leaders were aware of the community’s desire for increased access to local produce in the urban environment.

The first success came in the spring of 2012 when the city asked Health Action partner organizations to help draft an ordinance. Whatley served as an intermediary, helping to guide the policy through numerous revisions until the public hearing in March 2013. The Urban Agricultural Ordinance was officially passed by Birmingham City Council on April 30, 2013.

Implementation Plan 
The next major step is implementing the ordinance, which will rely on the involvement of residents and advocates. The hope is that additional promotion of these activities will be one tool to address food insecurity in Birmingham. This means helping community members apply for permits and providing them with resources on appropriate land use. The long-term goals include creating a self-sustaining retail market for fresh food and spurring interest among community members in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Whatley says, “Birmingham has a great food culture so we want to complement what’s already going on and not overregulate, but at the same time there are environmental concerns around growing food safely in former industrial areas.” Birmingham residents and health advocates are now considering how city land can be best used for healthy and sustainable agriculture. This requires raising awareness on the “nuts and bolts” of land ownership, zoning, usage, and safety for producing fresh food.

The Urban Agriculture Ordinance is just one step in Birmingham’s Comprehensive Plan to create a healthier place to live. The food policy work has already sparked interest in areas surrounding Jefferson County. “To make large scale change happen,” Whatley says, “you have to be willing to take the first step and create something people can get behind.  It’s exciting to see where it can lead us from here.”

October, 2013