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San Diego's Urban Agriculture Ordinance Sprouts New Business Opportunities

Bill Tall, the owner of City Farmers Nursery, says the city's growing interest in urban agriculture has helped make his business a destination for San Diego families.
Brian Myers
Bill Tall, the owner of City Farmers Nursery, says the city's growing interest in urban agriculture has helped make his business a destination for San Diego families.
San Diego's Urban Agriculture Ordinance Sprouts New Business Opportunities

This spring marks the first anniversary of a city ordinance that lets residents keep chickens, goats and bees in their backyards. The relaxed homesteading rules have had a major impact on business at City Farmers Nursery on Home Avenue in City Heights.

Speak City Heights is a media collaborative aimed at amplifying the voices of residents in one of San Diego’s most diverse neighborhoods. (Read more)

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Bill Tall, whom neighborhood residents adoringly call "Farmer Bill," said he's seen an increase in sales as he's adapted his business to fill a niche created by the new rules.

"Before the new changes in the ordinances, we had a lot of people that were interested in raising their own food, having their own chickens, bees, goats and stuff," Tall said. "They would do it kind of stealth. They would come in and get a few baby chicks that we sold, but we didn't sell feed and feeders and all. Now people are able to do it legally, with certain parameters. It's really grown."

Residents can now keep chickens — but not roosters — two beehives and de-horned mini goats in their backyards as long as they're kept far enough away from neighboring structures. Since the changes went into effect last March, Tall has been selling feed and supplies and offering classes on raising animals and growing your own food.

"I feel as though the ordinance change has given us a chance and I don't want to see the chance being blown and taken away from us," Tall said. "It's really important that people know what they are doing."

The farmer is no stranger to living off the land. Tall said he visits the grocery story just once every three months, relying instead on the nursery for 98 percent of his food.

"You'd be surprised that if you had just a 1-by-2-feet piece of ground, even a container, two people could grow enough lettuce to eat salad in the winter every day of the week," Tall said.

With the rising interest in hyper local food sources, City Farmers has also added a farm-to-table restaurant called Nate's Garden Grill. It's owned by Allison Strand.

"We specialize in local organic produce from organic farmers and local fish," Strand said. "The idea is to bring really good quality food to this neighborhood."

City Heights has been called a food desert and food swamp. It has just 1.64 sq. feet of grocery retail space per person — about half the industry standard — according to the neighborhood nonprofit Mid-City Community Advocacy Network. Liquor stores and fast food restaurants dot the community's main arteries, University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard.

Under the new urban agriculture rules, Tall was able to add an additional fresh food outlet to the neighborhood. Farmers and community gardeners can now operate produce stands on their properties, so he partnered with the International Rescue Committee and refugee farmers from Burma to sell produce at the nursery.

"It's all sudden becoming a place where you can bring your kids, people can be comfortable bringing their families and just walk around and enjoy," Tall said. "As our motto says, 'A bit of the country in the heart of the city.'"

City Farmers will host a homesteading festival May 5. A full list of classes and events is available on the nursery's website.

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