Until now, Berkeley’s zoning codes have prohibited selling backyard produce in a residential neighborhood. Photo: Tracey Taylor

In August 2010, Sophie Hahn told a reporter it was easier to have a pot collective in Berkeley than to have a vegetable collective. Last night Hahn’s desire to see the city allow residents to sell the food they grow in their backyards came one step closer to reality when the Planning Commission unanimously passed the Edible Garden Initiative.

Until now, Berkeley’s zoning codes have prohibited selling or otherwise conducting commerce outside a house in a residential neighborhood.

The legislation covers fruit, vegetables, nuts, honey, and shell eggs from fowl or poultry, provided they are all whole, intact, and organically grown. (Read the Sale of Non-Processed Edibles from Residential Lot memorandum.)

Speakers in favor of the initiative at the Planning Commission included Martin Bourque of the Ecology Center, the Berkeley Food Policy Council, and a representative from Berkeley’s Spiral Gardens. Almost 200 letters of support were submitted to the Commission. Commissioner Patrick Sheahan remarked that he has been involved with a neighborhood garden a long time ago and it had brought together the community.

Current laws are designed to protect the quality of residential communities from traffic and parking problems, as well as offensive or objectionable noise, odors, heat, or dirt. Those wishing to sell their produce needed to secure a “Moderate Impact Home Occupation” permit, a process many say is expensive and time consuming.

The genesis of the Edible Garden Initiative started three years ago when Hahn, who sits on the city’s Zoning Adjustments Board and recently announced she was running for City Council, encountered permitting problems with her own edible garden. Councilmember Jesse Arreguín introduced legislation developed with Hahn and Willow Rosenthal of City Slicker Farms. The Ecology Center and Berkeley Food Policy Council came on board as supporters, as did the Sierra Club.

After languishing for a while, the item was picked up by Associate Planner Jordan Harrison and made it onto last night’s agenda. The legislation does not call for a permit or exemption for homesteaders who want to sell the fruits of their labor, but comes with some conditions. Visits from customers are restricted to ten a day, for example.

Hahn says she is delighted by the Planning Commission’s approval. “Previously, the cost of the required permit was around $3,000 and could take six months or more to obtain,” she said. “This change increases food security, reduces food miles for food consumed in Berkeley, improves health and allows us to have direct relationships with those who grow our food – all fantastic outcomes.”

The Berkeley City Council must now ratify the recommendation before it becomes law.

Urban homesteader challenges city on sale of edibles [04.15.11]

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This story was updated  at 3:12 pm with a comment from Sophie Hahn.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...