Urban agriculture a good idea, but ...

FARGO, N.D. -- Fargo-Moorhead's budding love affair with urban agriculture could be a positive development for the region, or it could be a means by which neighbors give neighbors the bird.


FARGO, N.D. - Fargo-Moorhead’s budding love affair with urban agriculture could be a positive development for the region, or it could be a means by which neighbors give neighbors the bird. 

If considered carefully and applied rationally - that is, without elitism masquerading as a phony we-know-what’s-good-for-you idyll - the cities’ iteration of urban ag could enhance living in the cities.
In the broadest sense, there are two kinds of agriculture: plant and animal. In its broadest sense, urban plant agriculture includes home gardens, community gardens, rooftop gardens on suitable buildings, farmers markets, co-ops and delivery services for locally grown produce, and more. But urban animal agriculture is, so to speak, an entirely different animal.
Farm animals make noise. They smell bad. Their waste can be a health hazard. They attract unwanted creatures and flies. They require fences, barns and coops. They can cause domestic pets to misbehave. All those factors can be problematic in an urban setting.
Thus far, it’s about chickens. Fargo, N.D., allows backyard chickens under specific restrictions. West Fargo, N.D., and Moorhead, Minn., do not. There have been few, if any, reported complaints in Fargo. But that’s not reason enough to transplant what essentially are rural livestock practices into densely developed city neighborhoods.
Drawing the line
If chickens are acceptable, what about other livestock? Can a city that opens the barn door to chickens discriminate against hogs? Some people like hogs, and they are said to be smarter than horses. And what about horses?
As the aged immigrant aunt said on an old “Seinfeld” episode: “Who doesn’t like a pony?” Goats? What’s not to love? And they eat anything and everything - like the neighbor’s ornamental shrubs. Sheep? Of course. A two-crop animal: lamb and wool. It would be almost a biblical affront to ban sheep from the city.
Silly, right? But the point is, the Cass Clay Food Systems Initiative Advisory Commission must avoid stepping into cowpies as it promotes a good idea for the metro. In that spirit, the commission recently postponed a vote on a draft chicken advisory because not all city leaders on the advisory board were able to participate.
Smart move.
Not so smart is a strategy that suggests people who oppose or question the foundational concepts of urban agriculture need to be “educated.” That smells of condescension. It is not the way to win friends and influence public policy.
There are significant numbers of people in the metro who are quite educated, thank you, and declare without hesitation that city residents who want to raise farm critters should live in the country. That stance is legitimate, and must be considered as (or if) the metro embraces urban animal agriculture.
Editor’s note: This editorial originally appeared in the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. The Forum and Agweek are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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