Urban farm approval in Buffalo



It looks like urban farming is now officially sanctioned as a development option in Buffalo. Mark and Janice Stevens will pay $1 a year to lease 27 parcels (about 2 acres in all) from the City of Buffalo, where they will start with about 60 raised beds, hoping eventually to test and amend the soil underneath those beds. The city requires only that the farming be conducted “in a neat and orderly fashion,” and that the produce be sold within the city.

The Stevenses, as I’ve reported before, initially wanted to buy the land, but the city still has hopes that eventually houses will once again occupy the empty space. As these are among thousands of such empty spaces in the city, not to mention all the abandoned houses the city owns, I am most skeptical about those hopes. But it’s part of the “this is the way we’ve always done things” mindset that is so prevalent in city governments everywhere.

So good luck to the Stevenses! As promised, I will be over there taking pictures as they get their operation going. I’d also like to draw your attention to two really neat Buffalo blogs that look at city living in interesting ways. The first is David Torke’s Fix Buffalo. David has graciously allowed me to use his photography here. The title of David’s blog says it all; he focuses on Buffalo’s east side, our most blighted area (Michele and Susan got a tour last year).

For completely different reasons, I also love writer/chef Joe George’s blog Urban Simplicity, in which he talks about growing corn in his front yard, all the things you can carry on a bike, and how to make great bread, among other things. Joe would hate to be called a locavore or an advocate of sustainable living. Maybe he even hates it that I’m calling out his blog here. But I think many of you will enjoy it.

ADDENDUM: I neglected to mention that there is talk of enacting a Right to Farm law in Buffalo, an unusual step for a city to take. More on that as it evolves (or doesn’t evolve). Also, as David notes in comments, had the Stevenses purchased the land, their efforts would have been subject to zoning and other legal hurdles that would have considerably delayed any farming endeavor. So perhaps this “try it and see” decision was the best.


  1. How great! Good luck to them. Wasted land is a sin, and farming vacant lots will help to stop the slide by beautifying the neighborhood.

  2. I wish Mark and Janice great success.Maybe then the city will re-consider and sell them the land.

  3. Without being able to buy the land they will be restricted in what they can accomplish. But I can see the city’s side in that once sold they will have little say. If the farm proves to be good for the area maybe the city will reconsider.
    Testing for soil contaminates and remediating if necessary will cost time and money but increase yeilds.
    Check out this option for urban farming. I thought it was great but must have cost a fortune for that many earthboxes.
    Inside Urdan Green has many ideas for urban growers.

  4. This is really amazing news – ground breaking! Thanks for covering this.

    I’ve been very close to these negotiations between the Stevens and the City. If the Stevens had purchased the land from the City – 1200-1500/lot – the transfer would have triggered a myriad of problems that would have prevented any cultivation here as zoning review and a host of hearings would have stood in the way.

    In the end a rather creative and pragmatic agreement was reached which allows the Stevens to begin planning/planting right now.

    The agreement was also structured to act as a ‘pilot project’ which – it is hoped by all parties – will act as a possible future model encouraging others groups and individuals to replicate what is sure to be a success on Wilson Street.

  5. I was looking at the fix Buffalo blog and saw the houses for $1.

    I wonder just how much it would cost to move a house from Buffalo to Austin, Tx.? We just don’t have many old houses here. I would love to have a big old rambling Victorian.

  6. Good stuff! We’d love to have similarly progressive municipal authorities here in Australia, but alas, all they seem intent on doing is wrapping every decent proposal in red tape. Go Buffalo.

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