Photo courtesy Grow Pittsburgh.

Being an urban farmer in Pittsburgh just got a lot easier.

Pittsburgh City Council just approved an urban agriculture zoning code that will “improve and enhance things across the board,” says Julie Butcher Pezzino, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh.

This new code touches on “all levels of urban agriculture,” from large-scale urban farms to city residents who want to sell produce or keep chickens, bees and goats.

The previous ordinance, adopted in 2009, was “behind the curve,” says Butcher Pezzino but now Pittsburgh has “one of the more progressive codes in the country.”

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Selling produce at Shiloh Farms.

A dedicated team of individuals and groups worked to get this new urban ag policy in place including Grow Pittsburgh, Burgh Bees, Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People (P4), Pittsburgh Food Policy Council (a collection of 70 organizations that advocate for food policy) and the Department of City Planning, which is under the direction of Mayor Peduto.

Peduto had addressed Grow Pittsburgh’s Urban Agriculture and Policy Symposium in 2013. “He said, ‘I know this code is flawed. Rewrite it. Bring in other suggestions and I’ll support it,’” says Butcher Pezzino.

“The game changer was this new administration,” said Butcher Pezzino in a previous NEXT article. The team began to “work more in earnest,” and studied urban ag codes from around the country. Here are the resulting code specs:

  • On a plot that’s 2,000 square feet—which includes the footprint of your house—you can now keep five chickens or ducks, rather than three. With every additional 1,000 square feet, you can add another chicken or duck. In that same space, you can maintain two beehives and have two miniature goats.
  • At 10,000 square feet, you can take in two full-size, adult goats.
  • A two-acre plot is now considered an urban farm by the city, which allows you to sell produce; the old code considered only properties over three acres to be farms.

From a process perspective, the rules are much more farmer-friendly including the cost which dropped to $70 from more than $300 for what is now an over-the-counter permit. ”You just bring your check and your site plan,” says Butcher Pezzino. “You don’t have to stand before the zoning board.”

Photo courtesy Burgh Bees.
Photo courtesy Burgh Bees.

If people have questions about getting a permit, a good first place to stop is Grow Pittsburgh’s website. “We can help talk people through it and be a resource if people run into problems,” says Butcher Pezzino.

“This was a team effort that shows a city can work with nonprofits and individuals with subject matter expertise and come up with a progressive and exciting and useful code for the city,” she adds. “It makes you realize if there’s political will and support how fast things can happen.”

Woods wanderer who was an an editor at New England’s regional magazine, the research director of a Colorado newspaper and a farm hand in Vermont before returning to Pittsburgh to write about and explore her hometown.