Despite a diversity of urban agriculture activities, the city of Burlington lacks clear municipal policies to govern growing food and keeping animals outside agriculturally-zoned areas. On January 17, almost 50 people gathered for a workshop to discuss issues related to keeping livestock in urban Burlington areas. The workshop was organized by Burlington’s Urban Agriculture Task Force as a part of its efforts to develop a cohesive policy for urban agriculture in the city of Burlington.
The workshop objective was to gain input from the community on potential city policies for issues specific to backyard livestock, and it drew participants from the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources (RSENR) in addition to the broader UVM and Burlington communities. See the video:
The structure of the discussions was based on previous research conducted by Alison Nihart — as a part of her University of Vermont RSENR graduate thesis research — and the Task Force. This included interviews with city officials and urban agriculture practitioners, as well as research on policy approaches used by other cities and interviews with officials in those cities.
Burlington City Council created the citizen-led Task Force in March of 2011 to investigate and recommend policies to provide city officials with the tools to effectively govern urban agriculture and allow residents to maximize community and health benefits from these activities. Nihart is collaborating with the Task Force as a community partner for her graduate work, which is structured as a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project.
During the workshop, participants broke into discussion groups to examine specific cross-cutting issues and reported back on how the group weighed multiple, and sometimes conflicting, priorities. One group discussed the extent to which the city should regulate the size, location, and makeup of animal structures. Another group considered aspects of governing the humane treatment of livestock, which are largely exempt from animal cruelty laws. Other topics included whether registration and permit fees should be required, how the Burlington community might handle slaughtering in an urban context, whether practitioners should be allowed to sell eggs and meat, and considerations unique to beekeeping.
Several discussion groups underlined the importance of addressing issues using multiple policy approaches depending on the governance objective. In some situations, ordinances will be necessary to support enforcement by city officials. Participants also emphasized that city rules should not make keeping urban livestock cost-prohibitive, and that regulation should be minimized in favor of education and mentorship, which may better ensure that practitioners follow responsible animal husbandry practices for urban settings.
Results from this workshop will inform policy recommendations to City Council. A draft report will be posted for public comment on the Task Force website later this spring: http://www.burlingtonfoodcouncil.org/our-projects/uatf.
Written by Alison Nihart. Edited by Haylley Johnson.