Thursday, May 1, 2014

Lauren Handel & Nicole Civita Speak About Urban Agriculture Law & Policy at ABA CLE Program

As city dwellers around the country have become increasingly interested - and directly involved -  in how their food is produced, state & local governments and attorneys must create policies that harmoniously facilitate agricultural activity in urban settings. Recognizing that lawyers need models, resources and education on the ways in which urban agriculture intersects with the law, the ABA Section of State & Local Government Law recently convened a session on Legal Pickles, Planning Tools, and Case Studies in Urban Ag. The LL.M. program supplied two of the four panelists for this session: LL.M. alumnae Lauren Handel, a partner at Foscolo & Handel PLLC, and Nicole Civita, a Visiting Assistant Professor in our own program and a member of Fayetteville’s Local Food Policy Working Group.

Professor Civita began the session by offering a concise history of urban cultivation in the United States and an overview of various policy and planning tools that can be used to mindfully encourage cultivation of produce and humane, responsible husbandry of small livestock within city limits. Professor Civita the contextualized the current interest in entrepreneurial urban agriculture and distinguished it from historical community gardening initiatives. She encouraged local leaders to devise scale-appropriate, character-sensitive policies that enable long-term investment in diverse forms of urban food production. She also emphasized the importance of auditing a region’s food policies and assessing its food system before enacting new laws and allowing the policy development process to be guided by the needs of the community.

Lauren Handel provided an well organized overview of "Right to Farm" laws, which shield farmers in all 50 states from nuisance liability under statutorily-set circumstances. She also offered a forward-looking assessment of the ways in which such laws might be used to facilitate or thwart urban agriculture. Lauren noted that because right to farm laws were not intended to apply to urban agriculture the can be a poor fit for this emerging type of farming. In many states, these laws will not provide urban farmers with the nuisance immunity afforded to traditional, rurally sited farms, which raises concerns about fairness and may serve as a deterrent to urban farming. Other states' laws could be construed to apply to urban farms, but they will be difficult to apply to relatively new, diverse and evolving urban farming practices. Moreover, to the extent that right to farm laws apply in cities and preempt local laws, they can serve as a significant disincentive to the official promotion of urban agriculture.

Nicole & Lauren were joined on the panel by Kami Pothukuchi, an Associate Professor of Urban Studies & Planning at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan and Gordon Smith, a councilman for the city of Asheville, North Carolina (where the conference was held), both of whom are visionary advocates for urban agriculture. Professor Pothukuchi & Councilman Smith offered concrete examples of how urban agriculture has been boldly supported at the municipal level in Detroit and Asheville. Professor Civita added another real-world perspective by speaking about her work on the City of Fayetteville’s newly enacted urban agriculture ordinance.

This CLE program offered tips on how to help urban farmers secure access to growing spaces, how to facilitate in-neighborhood marketing of city-raised food products, how keep manage chickens and goats in a metropolis, and how to regulate urban beekeeping. The organizer and moderator of the panel, Sorell Negro, reports that the presentations generated significant buzz among the attendees at the section meeting several of whom have indicated that they will be applying some of the strategies suggested in their own communities.

The positive feedback on this CLE program demonstrates that there is a wide audience for the forthcoming ABA-published book on Urban Agricultural law that features the chapters written not only by Lauren and Nicole, but by several other graduates and faculty of our LL.M. program, including Jason Foscolo, Andy Frame, Sara Albert, Lauren Bernadett and Susan Schneider.

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