An increasing number of city dwellers are starting vegetable gardens and, in some cases, keeping livestock in an effort to save money on groceries or to make certain they know where their food is coming from. In response, city and county officials are finding ways to promote and regulate urban agriculture.

The American Community Gardening Association (ACGA) has seen a surge of interest in community gardens over the last six months, fueled in part by First Lady Michelle Obama planting a vegetable garden at the White House. “We've had a 200 percent increase in hits on our Web site and a 75 percent increase in calls,” says Bobby Wilson, ACGA president. He reports the biggest increase has been from park districts and municipalities that want to start community gardens and are looking for resources and guidance on how to sustain community gardens long-term.

Miami officials are overhauling the city's zoning ordinance to include new laws regulating community gardens, roof top gardens, greenhouses and backyard gardens. One change would add community gardens to the list of projects supported by a developer-funded public open space fund. “We're looking at ways to add urban agriculture,” says Luciana Gonzalez, assistant to the planning director, “because it helps build a sense of community, encourages people to live healthier lifestyles and it provides educational opportunities for children to learn where food comes from.”

In a similar effort this spring, Milwaukee began leasing five lots in a central city neighborhood that had been left vacant by foreclosures for use as community gardens as part of an effort to revitalize faltering areas. Yves LaPierre, a real estate analyst for the city, says the three-year leases on the gardens are enough to give gardeners a sense of tenure and stability, but do not prevent the land from being developed over the long-term. “You always want to keep land available in case the market changes,” he says.

Annemarie Mannion is a Willowbrook, Ill.-based freelance writer.

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