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Lawmakers urged to help promote growth of urban farming

Community gardens and urban farms could be valuable tools to help improve Buffalo's distressed neighborhoods, representative from several local groups contend.

Advocates are prodding the Common Council to take early but key steps aimed at making it easier for people to create community gardens and pursue urban agriculture. The measures would include setting up a "diggable database" to help aspiring gardeners and farmers pinpoint land that has been cleared for planting.

Other steps would involve creating a model lease based on agreements used in other cities that address a variety of unique issues. Supporters also want assurances that neighborhood gardens and urban farms are taken into account as long-delayed efforts move forward to overhaul Buffalo's antiquated zoning codes.

Among the speakers at a City Hall hearing Tuesday afternoon was Mark Stevens, whose family made headlines last year in a struggle to create an urban farm on Wilson Street, not far from the Broadway Market.

The farm continues to expand, Stevens said. He's convinced that urban agriculture and neighborhood gardens are assets that can help revive "dying communities."

"Hopefully, the vision for the City of Buffalo becomes pro-community gardens, and it also sees how urban farming fits into that at just a little bigger level," said Stevens.

A task force has been working for 20 months on a multipronged strategy for promoting gardens and urban farms. Many groups are involved, including Grassroots Gardens, a nonprofit organization that oversees about 70 community gardens.

Group president Kirk Laubenstein is a legislative staffer to Niagara Council Member David A. Rivera, who sponsored a resolution that was recently approved by lawmakers. The bill endorses efforts that would promote ornamental gardens, vegetable gardens and farms.

While Council Majority Leader Richard A. Fontana agreed that gardens can make a positive difference in neighborhoods, he warned that they can be ugly messes when neglected or abandoned -- what he dubbed "gardens gone bad."

Advocates concurred that oversight is an important element as efforts are stepped up to promote more gardens throughout the city.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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