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City looks to change urban farm regulations

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Changes are coming to the way urban farms in Austin will be regulated. Some farmers feel that the city's recommendations threaten the growth of urban farms.

One farm that would be impacted by the proposed changes to the urban farm code is HausBar in east Austin where you can find dozens of chickens.

The owners want to sell their eggs and their meat. But there are some things urban farms won't be able to do if the recommendations to the code are passed.

At HausBar Farms there are rows of herbs and vegetables.

"We offer vegetables for sale to chefs and caterers," said HausBar Farms Co-owner Dorsey Barger.

Barger also raises all different kinds fowl on the farm.

"These are the ducks we just started raising and they are a hoot," she said.

For a while, Barger was able to sell their meat to local chefs and restaurant owners until earlier this year when a complaint from a neighbor about the composting smell resulted in the city shutting down HausBar.

"We were already processing animals as licensed by the state for two years," Barger said.

The city's Planning Department began to take a look at changing Austin's urban farm code.

"One thing we've found in going through this process is: not many of the farms that come in to apply for the proper permitting, and a lot were doing activities not currently allowed," said Jerry Rusthoven of the Austin Planning Dept.

Many urban farms are hosting events or in HausBar's case, they had built a second home on the property which is not allowed under the code.

"Our idea was to have a small house that would be available for farm stays which we would rent by the night," Barger said.

Farmers also have to have proper permits to raise, process and sell fowl and rabbits, which HausBar has plenty of, along with two friendly donkeys.

"In order to cut back on gas-powered machines, the two donkeys on the farm are here to fertilize and mow. They also act as protectors for the other animals," Barger said.

The donkeys are considered miniature farm animals, so under the proposed recommendations, they will be able to stay. But small livestock such as pigs or goats won't be allowed under the code.

While some farmers think they should be, city staff believe that's a step too far for urban farms.

"We have existing code that allows urban farms in every district. It's just that a lot of folks didn't realize there were restrictions on what that means," Rusthoven said.

Farmers just hope those restrictions continue to allow them to provide their food to the community, within Austin city limits.

An urban farm would be defined as being between one and five acres. The code would also limit the number of fowl per acre and require farmers to get a permit in order to hold events.

The planning commission will hold a public meeting to discuss the proposed recommendations Tuesday evening before city council is expected to vote on them next month.

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