Can the urban farmer and the Solon be friends?



Today I am attending a chicken hearing at Buffalo City Hall.
This is not the first time I’ve attended a legislative hearing of our Common
Council, but it’s the first time I’ve gone to advocate for chickens. Usually I
am there to stop demolitions of historic properties or—a couple times—to speak
about quality of life issues such as bar patios open too late and so on.

I have high hopes for this. It should provide some
entertainment and the word is—as I’ve reported before—that an ordinance
allowing chickens is likely to pass here. But on the other hand, it is a bit
frustrating that this issue, like so many that affect urban gardeners and
farmers, has to be such a heavy lift for local politicians. If I were to ask
any of these legislators what LEED standards were, I’m pretty sure they’d be
able to say Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (this phrase bothers
me, by the way—“energy design?” Huh?). They get buildings and clean energy. But
they don’t get sustainability when it comes to uses that don’t have to do with
bricks, mortar, and generating power.

And it goes well beyond Buffalo. Here is a woman in
Springfield, MA
who is trying to sell her vegetables and is running into
trouble (though she is prevailing), while fierce battles between developers and urban farms occur in
cities throughout the U.S. regularly, including a famous example in Los Angeles
that is the subject of the film
The Garden (reviewed by Susan)

Urban gardeners are running up against laws and governments
nearly daily, and while some of it is easy to understand—you need regulations
and order in any community—a lot of the trouble comes from city planning
mindsets that seem wedded to the disastrous urban renewal paradigms of decades
ago. The plan for success still seems to be: lure a big company, build lots of
apartment buildings and parking ramps and make sure there’s a convention center
and a stadium nearby. I exaggerate but not by much. For too many politicians
and planners, cities still mean concrete and construction cranes, not healthy
neighborhoods where people try to live sustainable lives. The path to economic survival in cities has changed and it's got more to do with livability than skyscrapers.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at


  1. I fear the fight for land-use will only intensify in coming decades. I’ve been to more than my share of county and city hearings on saving green spaces. The hard part to fight is that politicians seem to be slaves to the all-mighty tax revenue and fees. 🙁 Voters need to speak up!

  2. I spoke to an urban planner in Detroit, and she explained why cities don’t like community gardens and urban farms. They see houses and stores–which they can tax at a high rate–as the highest possible use of vacant land.

    Saratoga Springs, thank goodness, is so ancient that our city code allows ANYTHING in the backyard except swine and roosters. I always joke with my husband that if the neighbors start complaining about my three sweet Buff Orpington hens, I will get goats.

  3. “all-mighty tax revenue and fees” No taxes and no fees mean no infrastructure and no services. Not that there isn’t waste and mismangement of our tax dollar and fees, but we tax payers want our taxes lowered and our serveces the same or increased.

  4. Well, I wouldn’t go overboard on the whole tax thing. The urban gardeners and farmers all pay taxes and the chickens will mean extra fees. All of the new ordinances and permits that might evolve to allow more urban farming will involve fees.

    I grow tomatoes and it hasn’t reduced my tax bill one bit.

  5. Hey Tamara…thanks for the link…just so you know, I never go down after the first punch! Or the second, or the third, etc…lol. I’m stubborn as heck. So we’re still working on this and it looks like we may be getting closer to a solution for our pullet sales at North Haven Gardens. We just have to remember, city employees and city council members work for us, not the other way around…viva la chickens!

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