Sunday, July 11, 2010

A letter & a request

(This is from my husband, Jeremy)

Dear citizens,

I have a small mushroom farm in south Minneapolis. I mostly grow shiitake mushrooms on oak logs but I’m growing a few oyster and wine cap mushrooms as well. The mushroom logs sit in our side yard, and some of our neighbors have donated shady parts of their yards to host logs as well. I don’t use fungicides or chemicals and the logs are sustainably-harvested just north of the Twin Cities. I sell the mushrooms to local co-ops and groceries and a couple of restaurants, all within a few miles of where they are grown.

With 350 four-foot logs and production of only sixty pounds (to date) of shiitake mushrooms, my operation is still too small to be truly viable. This business can be grown and made viable and sustainable if only the city of Minneapolis will adjust some of its policies and regulations.

As small as I am, I have already run into many difficulties with the City zoning department: they have targeted my operation as non-compliant with the current code. Early in June I had to move 125 logs from the yard of a neighbor due to non-compliance (they were seen as ‘improperly stored firewood’). Now I have received a notice of non-compliance for my own property. The notice calls attention to my storage of logs in the side yard and of the use of the shading structures that cover them. It also challenges the use of my residential property for a “home occupation business to produce vegetables for sale,” which is not currently allowed if visible from the street.

I am not averse to some regulation of my mushroom farming, but I want to challenge the code so that I will be able to store mushroom logs and run my operation in residential yards like my own – without having to hide everything in the backyard or behind tall fences. Starting a small business isn’t easy and purchasing a commercially zoned property is a luxury that most small business owners just don’t have. The city should be encouraging and helping small businesses, not discouraging them in every way possible.

The city of Minneapolis has set goals for urban food production, but these goals haven’t yet trickled down to affect city code. According to the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative recommendations: “Zoning, Licensing, and other City codes should provide a hospitable regulatory environment for local foods operations…” The City needs urban farms like mine in operation right now so that we have real scenarios for the benefits and challenges that come up for urban farmers, residents and City policies and regulations. That is the only sure-fire way to make the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative more than words on paper and to increase the availability of local foods in Minneapolis.

To that end, urban farmers like me will need more than a ten-day extension when we are served notice for a zoning violation. The City needs to push through improvements to zoning, licensing, and other codes and farmers need extensions until those improvements are made. But that doesn’t let us off the hook: urban farmers should be plugged into current efforts of the city to carry out the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, such as development of the new urban agriculture topical plan. Everyone needs to step up and participate in this effort. If you are an urban farmer, find out how to get involved in the policy changes being discussed. If you support urban farming talk to your city council representative – email, Facebook, on the phone or in person! Let them know you support urban farming, you want to see positive changes in the codes, and you want to see some support for farmers who are struggling under the current restrictive codes – and make sure to mention me, I need all the help I can get!

Thank you for your help in making urban farming in Minneapolis possible!

Jeremy McAdams
Cherry Tree House Mushrooms


5 comments:

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

Just an idea but it is well know that Mayor RT Rybak is a big foodie. I have seen him at a number of events. Perhaps you could try contacting him and asking what sort of variance may be made. It may also be worth mentioning you recent coverage in the national press.

Aimee said...

Jeremy and a friend are going to meet with one of Rybak's aides sometime this week.
We certainly thought of him because of his foodie support.
Good idea about the NYT article. We did mention it to our city council person but that didn't seem to help.

Frustrated Farmer Rick said...

So before you had a chance to tell me that I passed along the request for help to R.T. via twitter as I figured the newness of the medium might ensure he actually saw it. Here is his response,

Love to help. Email me at rt@minneapolis.org

I will reply that I passed this on to you guys and step out of the equation. Hope it helps.

Aimee said...

Wahoo! Thanks Farmer Rick!
Such a 21st century thing to do - email the mayor! =)

ilexcassine said...

I just emailed my folks city council member (I figure with my folks last name being the same as mine the city council person won't know I actually don't live there anymore).

I also posted the letter on my LJ with a link to the city council folks contact info (unfortunately most of my TC friends are in Saint Paul, but who knows, maybe it'll amplify the signal a bit).

Good luck! Please keep us posted on how things are going.

-Amanda (in NC)