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Athens-Clarke County Urban Agriculture: a PlanFirst success story

Over the last seven years since the adoption of the 2008 Athens-Clarke County Comprehensive Plan, staff has put forth efforts in pursuing many of the goals outlined, with one such aspect having both unique and prosperous results. In 2008, the community as a whole stated a desire to research, analyze, and pursue ways in which Athens-Clarke County could join the growing trend of sustainable, urban agricultural practices. There are many direct and indirect references made to sustainability and urban agriculture throughout the comprehensive plan and its associated documents, most notably though within the Community Agenda. This section is broken down into several general service topics that specify issues and opportunities of importance. Under Economic Development, Opportunity #7 points out that Athens-Clarke County has a growing, small-scale agricultural industry, and that Policy “A” should encourage small, sustainable farming with a Long-Term Goal of creating a farmers market and community gardens. Additionally, within the Environmental section of the Community Agenda, Issue #8 discusses the impacts of various development, thus highlighting the need for Policy “B” which encourages the re-adaptation of vacant properties along with countering invasive species.

To bring about these changes, the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government (ACCUG) put forth efforts to formally adopt ordinances related to sustainable, urban agriculture. For the first time, three separate ordinances were constructed that addressed distinct aspects of sustainability and urban agriculture. On February 4, 2014, a community garden ordinance was adopted to specify regulations for creating and maintaining private/semiprivate/public gardens and their associated sales activities. On June 3, 2014, a prescribed grazing ordinance would take place as an alternative to mechanical maintenance of lands. Then, on May 5, 2015 an urban agriculture ordinance was adopted allowing for the keeping of chickens in all zoning districts, even within the urban core. One existing ordinance pertaining to home occupations was also amended on October 1, 2013 in response to small-scale agricultural businesses by providing an opportunity to run a cottage food service so long as it meets permitting requirements of the Georgia Department of Agriculture.

All of these ordinances were first recommended for support by the Athens-Clarke County Planning Commission and then ultimately approved by the Athens-Clarke County Mayor and Commission. Permits have been issued in relation to these newly adopted procedures, and many aspects of the sustainable, urban agriculture goals set forth in the comprehensive plan are now present throughout the community. The ACCUG considers its efforts to create and sustain urban agriculture a success due to the popularity such recent actions have had amongst the general public; the lack of negative concerns since implementation; and the continued motivation to preserve basic, historic agricultural techniques and opportunities for generations to come within a condense urban environment.

An additional example of success as derived from a non-profit entity within Athens-Clarke County is that of the Athens Farmers Market: Local and Sustainable. Though it is not formally affiliated with the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government, this limited liability company came about at the same time as the 2008 Comprehensive Plan, which specifically called for the creation of such a commodity. The Athens Farmers Market has operated continuously ever since and has prospered in its growth and influence, further demonstrating the need for communities across Georgia to consider planning initiatives that embrace sustainability and urban agricultural practices.

The Athens-Clarke County Unified Government has made a strong commitment to community planning, through which it is dedicated to accomplishing its future objectives as outlined in the most recent comprehensive plan. The significant rate of participation from members of the community in developing the document highlights the value in such a planning tool, one in which the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government intends to implement, not just reference from time to time.



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