Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services Removes Policy Barrier To Create Equity For Urban Agriculture And Increase Local Food Production

Per Montgomery County: The Montgomery County Department of Permitting Services (DPS) has removed permitting barriers to allow produce growers to build high tunnel-type greenhouses on urban and suburban properties, a benefit previously reserved for land designated as agricultural. High tunnels can be a key piece of farm infrastructure for vegetable growers to increase food production. Similar to a greenhouse, a high tunnel is a less permanent structure, built with a metal frame and plastic cover instead of glass and metal. High tunnels extend the growing season by trapping heat and protect crops from diseases and pests.

Urban agriculture is fundamental to achieving food systems resiliency in the County, increasing urban access to nutritious food and empowering urban residents. Previously, a building permit from the County was required for high tunnels on properties not agriculturally assessed for tax purposes. It is often difficult for properties with fewer than three acres to obtain the necessary agricultural assessment. This requirement had presented a barrier to new farmers and those with fewer means on urban and suburban properties.

“Ag growers who are Black, indigenous or people of color often operate on properties with fewer than three acres of land, so this policy change was made to increase racial equity,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “This policy change also is expected to increase local food production, which helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions from long-distance food transport on our roads and increase urban access to healthy and nutritious food. I thank the local grower who advocated for change and the Office of Agriculture and Department of Permitting Services for implementing the new policy.”

DPS, based on recommendations from the Office of Agriculture (OAG) and with support from  County Executive Elrich, recently made the policy decision to allow properties that are not agriculturally assessed to install a high tunnel without a building permit. The applicant must submit to the DPS a certificate showing that the high tunnel proposal has been reviewed by the Montgomery Soil Conservation District and the OAG to ensure that it will comply with sediment and erosion control, stormwater management, zoning, and any HOA requirements.

Tope Fajingbesi and her husband Niyi Balogun, owners of Dodo Farms in Brookeville, grow several different vegetables from their home country of Nigeria.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the following supply chain disruptions really exposed the vulnerability of our food systems, and more than any other events I have witnessed, showed the need to increase food production in the County,” said Tope. “Therefore, this gesture by the County Executive is a step in the right direction. Not only will food production increase, but I also anticipate that we will see an increase in culturally appropriate food for the County’s diverse residents.”

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