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Urban Farm Fight

Austin City Council considers abattoir, postpones Urban Farm Ordinance vote

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Dorsey Barger and Susan Haufmann of HausBar farms
Dorsey Barger and Susan Haufmann of HausBar Farms Courtesy of HausBar Farms

Update: After hearing statements from Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team chair Daniel Llanes and Sustainable Food Policy Board chair Paula McDermott, as well as briefly entertaining the notion of creating what Mayor Lee Leffingwell termed a "city-owned abattoir," Austin City Council voted at the request of PODER to postpone hearing the Urban Farm Ordinance until its meeting on November 21.

Urban farm advocates and detractors have both had a long row to hoe in the recent, protracted battle over the regulations that govern those businesses, but they could be reaching the end today, Thursday, Oct. 17, when the Austin City Council is scheduled to hear public input and possibly vote on a revamped Urban Farm Ordinance.

The battle’s first volley was fired in April, when East Austin’s HausBar Farms was shut down after a neighborhood group’s complaints led to the discovery that the farm, owned and operated by longtime East Austinites Dorsey Barger and Susan Hausmann, had been issued the wrong permits by the city.

Debate over urban farms has been heated and often flared around some of the most contentious issues in current urban policy discussion, including gentrification, ethnic diversity and displacement and affordable housing. 

In the ensuing conflict, which has been well-documented (most recently by Eater Austin and The Austin Chronicle), activist organization People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources (PODER), represented largely by Susana Almanza and Daniel Llanes (who is also chair of the Govalle/Johnston Terrace Neighborhood Contact Team), took a position adamantly opposed to the existence of any farms or farming on urban land zoned for single-family housing, with the exception of small gardens and animals kept by individuals and families.

Debate was heated and often flared around some of the most contentious issues in current urban policy discussion, including gentrification, ethnic diversity and displacement and affordable housing.

The conflict resulted in the city’s creating a step-by-step process by which its outdated Urban Farm Ordinance has been examined and revised; it is that revised version that the council will look at adopting on Thursday.

Both factions seem prepared to continue the battle in council chambers. Almanza and Llanes have both weighed in against the revisions, as no doubt others will during community input periods.

The Austin Urban Farms organization, meanwhile, has called for supporters to turn out and show their support at the meeting today (which is also Austin Urban Farm Day) and have suggestions for showing solidarity, such as wearing green, sending letters to council members and media outlets, registering their support at the council meeting and signing up to speak during the public hearing.

The organization has also distributed a letter, signed by 60 high-profile Austin chefs and owners of restaurants ranging from East Side Pies to Uchi, in support of local urban farms. There have been numerous email campaigns, including one in which Dorsey expresses her concern that the farms will not prevail if supporters, particularly those in the neighborhood, don’t show up in force for the hearing. Austin-American Statesman food writer Addie Broyles has also weighed in with a column supporting the farms.

It’s all scheduled to go down today, Thursday, Oct. 17, at 4 pm at City Council chambers in City Hall, 301 West Second Street.

And you thought single-member districts were exciting.

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