Of Backyard Chickens and Front Yard Gardens: The Conflict Between Local Governments and Locavores
University of Maine - School of Law
March 28, 2012
Tulane Law Review, Vol. 87, No. 2, 2012
Locavores aim to source their food locally. Many locavores are also concerned more broadly with living sustainably and decreasing reliance on industrial agriculture. As more people have joined the locavore movement, including many who reside in urban and suburban areas, conflict has emerged between the locavores’ desires to use their private property to produce food — for personal use and for sale — and municipal zoning ordinances that seek to separate agriculture from residential uses.
In this article, I consider the evolution of this conflict and its implications for our systems of land use, local government, and environmental law. Specifically, I investigate the police power rationales for the existence of ordinances that disallow urban homesteading in urban and suburban communities. I then demonstrate that public health, civic virtue, and free market principles can be used to justify the passage of ordinances that would expressly permit these behaviors. Central to this analysis is a discussion of the problems caused by industrial agriculture and the lack of access to locally produced foods — food insecurity, food deserts, obesity tied to processed foods, monoculture-induced environmental catastrophes, harm to animals, and greenhouse gas emissions — all of which could be alleviated, at least in part, through urban agriculture. In recognition of these changing conceptions of harm, some local governments have begun to pass ordinances expressly allowing gardens, chickens, and the sale of produce in residential areas. I conclude by considering what this movement toward loosening restrictions on the use of private property says more broadly about the decline of Euclidean zoning controls and the future of land use law.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 66
Keywords: locavore, local food, foodshed, zoning, land use, local government, municipal, urban, agriculture, police powers, private property, lawns, yards, gardens, chickens
JEL Classification: I12, I18, K11, K32, L66, N50, O13, O18, P32, Q1, Q18, Q15, R14, R52
Date posted: March 29, 2012 ; Last revised: January 15, 2013