It’s been a pretty miserable February, and with massive snowbanks covering ground that’s already frozen solid it’s hard to imagine Somerville as much of a farm-friendly mecca right now. But surprisingly enough, last month Modern Farmer recognized the ‘ville as one of the top five cities in the United States for raising urban livestock, along with Austin, Seattle, Chicago and our neighbors in Boston.
While zoning laws and restrictions make other cities a nightmare for would-be urban farmers (the magazine pointed out that there are places where’s it’s against the law just to plant a handful of vegetables in your yard), Somerville has a long history of encouraging its citizens to get down with agriculture and livestock. In fact, according to Modern Farmer’s Brian Barth, the city quite literally wrote the book on the subject: a text called the ABCs of Urban Agriculture, which simplifies Board of Health rules so that ‘villians know exactly what they’re allowed to do when it comes to planting crops and raising animals here.
“It’s full of useful tidbits that the city has woven into its bylaws — requiring chicken owners to keep feed in rat-proof bins and clean the coops at least once per week; making sure water is provided to beehives at all times, so they don’t go looking for a drink in the neighbor’s pool; and standards for neighborhood farm stands that enhance, rather than detract, from the ‘residential character’ of the community,” Barth writes. “Combined, Boston and Somerville may be the most urban agriculture-friendly metro area in the country.”
Barth doesn’t even get into new city measures like the Urban Agriculture Ambassador initiative, a free program that trains 20 Somerville residents in the basics of urban agriculture in exchange for community service. Inspired by Somerville’s Urban Agriculture Ordinance (the first of its kind in New England), the four-week-long course teaches attendees the safest ways to grow food in the city with the goal of ultimately inspiring a healthier population, and aspiring growers can still apply for the 2015 program through March 13.