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Months after HausBar closure, new urban farm rules taking shape

Addie Broyles

What is an urban farm?

It seems like an easy enough question to answer — “a farm in a city,” being the most basic response — but does a backyard garden count as a farm? If chickens can live on an urban farm, what about cows? How many employees can you have? How many chickens can you have? What can you do with the eggs? Can you slaughter those chickens for personal consumption? Can you sell the meat?

After the City of Austin shut down HausBar Farm because of issues with zoning and animal processing, city staffers revisited Austin’s farm code and how it defines an urban farm.

As the working group developed the recommendations (see more on that and the HausBar issues below), Statesman multimedia producer Kelly West set out to explore what exactly these farms are and how they fit into the changing demographics of East Austin. You can watch the video in this post, but be aware that there are a few graphic images of chickens being processed toward the end.

So, a recap on the issues at HausBar: After initial complaints from a neighbor in December, city inspectors this spring found several code compliance issues, most of them related to the number and kind of dwellings and buildings on the property and unrelated to the actual farming that HausBar owners Dorsey Barger and Susan Hausmann were doing on the property.

They had the proper licenses from the state departments of agriculture and state health services to raise chickens for wholesale egg production, as well as raising chickens and rabbits for slaughter. However, even though the state had granted the green light, the City of Austin’s farm code didn’t address all of the activities that HausBar wanted to do, particularly slaughtering rabbits and operating a short-term rental property on site. Many meetings with inspectors and officials later, the city shut down the farm until the rules could be cleared up and HausBar could obtain a new site plan designating it as an urban farm.

It’s been a long few months during which HausBar hasn’t been able to sell its produce, meat and eggs, but during this time, a City of Austin working group, helmed by Heather Frambach, an urban agriculture planner who works for the city’s Urban Agriculture and Com­munity Gardens Program, and Katherine Nicely, who is a member of the Sustainable Food Policy Board, has been compiling recommendations for changes to the urban farm code that they will present to the Sustainable Food Policy Board later this month. (After the SFPB votes on the recommended changes, they go to the planning commission in June and then on to city council sometime in August.)

Tuesday night is the last chance for the public to chime in on the draft recommendations. The town hall meeting will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex, 1156 Hargrave St., and anyone is welcome to join.

Among the proposed recommendations, which still might be tweaked before officially going to the Sustainable Food Policy Board:

  • Reduce the minimum size to a quarter of an acre and include an expectation of agricultural education activities.
  • Depending on how a lot is zoned, a farm could have more than one dwelling.
  • A farm can have more than one employee per acre, which was the previous rule, and if a farm has more than two employees per acre, it must provide additional parking.
  • Synthetic, non-organic fertilizers may not be used, and no animal raising or processing if the farm is located in a Critical Water Quality Zone
  • If a farm has animals, the animals must be kept in an enclosure at least 25 feet from the nearest residential structure. (The old rule was 50 feet.)
  • Animal processing isn’t allowed on farms less than an acre in size, but for larger farms, you can raise, process and compost one fowl and/or rabbit per week per 1/10th on an acre you have, and the composting must take place 50 feet from the nearest residential structure.
  • You can raise sheep, pigs and goats if you obtain a conditional use permit, but no on-site processing of these animals is allowed.
  • Urban farmers are allowed to sell their own products, including produce and meat, at their own farm stand, and products produced on someone else’s farm as long as the products don’t take up more than 10 percent of the farm stand’s area and are produced in the state of Texas.
  • There were previously no restrictions on events at farms, but the proposed recommendations include working rule that would require farmers to get a Temporary Use Permit for events with more than 50 people.