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Taking root: Encinitas continues work on urban farming policy

A+family+tends+to+a+plot+Feb.+12+at+the+Encinitas+Community+Garden.+As+the+garden+continues+to+develop%2C+the+city+of+Encinitas+is+still+working+on+a+more+concrete+urban+farming+policy.+%28Photo+by+Jen+Acosta%29
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Taking root: Encinitas continues work on urban farming policy

A family tends to a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. As the garden continues to develop, the city of Encinitas is still working on a more concrete urban farming policy. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

A family tends to a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. As the garden continues to develop, the city of Encinitas is still working on a more concrete urban farming policy. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

A family tends to a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. As the garden continues to develop, the city of Encinitas is still working on a more concrete urban farming policy. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

A family tends to a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. As the garden continues to develop, the city of Encinitas is still working on a more concrete urban farming policy. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

Lauren J. Mapp

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NCC-bug-status-2015Among recent changes in the local farming community, Encinitas’ Urban Agriculture Subcommittee continued a discussion of a new urban agriculture ordinance and agricultural permit during the second of five Planning Commission public hearings last month.

Led by appointed City Council members Catherine Blakespear and Tony Kranz, the topics discussed during the most recent public meeting Jan. 21 included agricultural permitting, defining agricultural terms for use in the ordinance and an overview of business registration certificates.

blakespear-catherine-2014-color“The big picture is that we’re trying to make it easier for people in the city to do things related to agriculture and to get permits through the city,” Blakespear said. “What we found in the past with efforts to start a community garden or figure out a way to have agriculture on their property and then sell it at the farmer’s market, people have had a big problem with getting through the city process, so one of the most important things is to establish an agriculture permit that costs a lot less than a minor use permit and that requires only the information that the city needs.”

Laurel Mehl, owner of Coral Tree Farm, received media attention in 2014 while working to submit permits to regain the ability to sell produce from her family farm in Encinitas. Since then, the farm’s permitting process has been halted awaiting a new urban agriculture ordinance to be passed.

Encinitas Community Garden Vice President Doug Long surveys the grounds Feb. 12. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

Encinitas Community Garden Vice President Doug Long surveys the grounds Feb. 12. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

“Due to the complex and cumbersome nature of the current minor use permit, we decided to wait for the completion of the new agricultural permits being worked on by the city council,” Mehl said via email. “As to date, permit is being worked on still. We are running our produce boxes as allowed by the city.”

One of the goals of the Urban Agriculture Subcommittee is also to make it easier for community gardens to develop. The Encinitas Community Garden at 441 Quail Gardens Drive opened last fall, and according to Blakespear, it has been a popular addition to the area.

“It’s wildly successful; it’s already completely full with a waiting list, and that’s a testament to the interest in agriculture in our city,” Blakespear said. “It took six years for that to open, and it’s not entirely the city’s responsibility for the delays, of course, there are a lot of people involved in the project. We need to be able to have more community gardens in our city, and we don’t want it to take nearly so long for the next one that wants to open.”

Going forward, Encinitas city Associate Planner Laurie Winter said that the commission feels “that the ordinance is still unclear and lacks clarity, and they want staff to work together with growers on the ‘greenhouse’ definition.”

Local farmer Ryan “Farmer Leo” Goldsmith loaded his greenhouse onto a trailer and vacated his farm Jan. 15 after the land he had leased for two years had been sold for development, according to his Facebook page. Blakespear said she feels that the development of agricultural lands into residential areas is a common problem for farmers in Encinitas.

Family members tend a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

Family members tend a plot Feb. 12 at the Encinitas Community Garden. (Photo by Jen Acosta)

“We’re trying to find a place for agriculture as the city matures, and a lot of the former agriculture lands like the greenhouses are turned into housing developments, so if we want to keep our agriculture, we have to have a friendly regulatory process,” Blakespear said. “In the past, our regulatory processes were very unfriendly, and it has basically driven people into development when they might have otherwise chosen agriculture.”

As a supporter of Farmer Leo’s, Blakespear added that the closing of his farm is “tremendously sad” and that “he brought a really fun and young and lively personality to agriculture – because he’s basically a young farmer who’s getting his hands dirty and making land grow food and selling it to people – so I think he is the type of face of the new agriculture movement.”

Keeping beehives in mind

Part of the urban agriculture ordinance will directly address beekeeping and how many beehives are allowed within a certain distance of neighboring homes.

As of Oct. 14, 2015, residents in Encinitas may have up to two beehives on their property as a hobbyist if the hives are at least 25 feet away from the street and property lines, as well as 35 feet away from neighboring houses.

For small commercial farming, beekeepers may have up to 20 hives as long as they are 50 feet away from the road and property lines, and at least 100 feet from neighboring houses. For large commercial farming, beekeepers may only have more than 20 hives if they are at least 300 feet away from neighboring homes.

Councilman Mark Muir said he believes that neighborhood beekeeping is potentially dangerous for anyone living nearby who is allergic to bees.

Mark Muir

Mark Muir

“I was concerned about the beehives because once you give someone the right to do that, what happens if somebody moves in next door who their kids have anaphylactic shock, meaning they’re allergic to bees?” Muir asked. “If my kid is allergic to bees and I have someone right next door raising bees and I can’t stop them, I have a big problem with that.”

Though some people in the community may worry about neighbors keeping bees out of concern over stings, James McDonald of the Encinitas Bee Company said he feels that beekeeping is one of the best ways to domesticate local bee populations and keep them docile.

“Much of the bee population in California has already been ‘Africanized’ or better known as ‘killer’ bees,” McDonald said in a public comment to the city via email. “By allowing the breeding of domesticated bees, the killer bee gene pool is diluted with gentle, domestic bee genes.”

Community backlash and support

Despite urban farming ordinances having been in place since 1986, an anti-agriculture campaign consisting of emails and prerecorded calls has been spreading misinformation about the new ordinance.

In one such email found in the city’s public comments file, the New Encinitas Network stated that “residential streets are not the proper or appropriate location for these noble pursuits in large scale,” yet the ordinance will actually cap the number of small farm animals based on the size of the property and proximity to neighboring homes.

Some residents who are against the farming ordinance said they feel that the agricultural community that Encinitas once was is now an outdated idea and that the city should evolve to be more of an urban environment.

“I wish to express my dismay at learning about this initiative to allow small farming, and hope you will not allow it,” resident Maxine Hesse said in a public comment via email. “Encinitas is no longer agriculture based, and I don’t think it should be. I certainly don’t (want) to wake up early morning to the sound of roosters for all those chickens.”

While some Encinitas residents have written negative comments regarding the ordinance, other members of the community have been showing their support of the local farming community by emailing public comments to the City Council.

Some emails reference the environmental and health benefits of local, organic farming, whereas others believe that Encinitas’ history of farming is a benefit to society as a whole.

“I fully support the need for urban agriculture in Encinitas,” resident Debbie Torbati said in a public comment via email. “It is important to keep local growers (especially organic) wherever we can. Buying vegetables from far away growers (like Chile) just doesn’t make sense economically, environmentally or nutritionally.”

The date for the next public hearing has not yet been set, but the topics of discussion will include beekeeping, chickens, miniature goats, other farm animals and 4-H youth education programs.

Lauren J. Mapp is a San Diego freelance writer

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Taking root: Encinitas continues work on urban farming policy