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Louisville Loosens Restrictions To Cultivate More Community Gardens

shelby park community garden
Ryan Van Velzer

The Shelby Park Community Garden has been at the corner of Hancock and St. Catherine Streets since 2012. 

It’s entirely volunteer-run: Community members tend roughly 40 raised garden beds throughout the year. Some garden beds around the periphery, near the sidewalks, produce fruits and vegetables that anyone walking by can pick for free. 

Deb Lynn CarnifexNeedler is a volunteer and the garden’s secretary. She said it’s transformed what was once a vacant lot into a community hub.

“Many people who walk by, if we’re in the garden, they’ll say ‘I love your garden, I watch your garden,’” she said. “They can look at it and see it grow and watch it change through the seasons.”

Louisville’s previous zoning rules would have required the community garden to offer 10 dedicated parking spots. Planting up to the sidewalk also wasn’t allowed, and urban agriculture was completely banned in certain residential and business areas. 

Those restrictions are now gone. Louisville Metro Council approved land development code changes Thursday night that some hope will remove barriers to establishing community gardens and other types of urban agriculture throughout the city.

Emily Liu, director of Louisville Metro’s Planning and Design Department, said the changes are part of a larger equity-focused review of the city’s Land Development Code. That’s an expansive 800-page document that defines how the land in the city can be used.

Based on three listening sessions last October, Liu said it was clear people wanted it to be easier to create community gardens or small-scale urban farms.

“The comments coming back were ‘We want you to remove [these restrictions],” she said. “We’ve been working with the citizens since then.”

From a planning perspective, Liu said community gardens can activate spaces that are undeveloped but require maintenance and upkeep.

“This really puts the land back to productive use,” she said. “As a human being, you can connect with the land so well. Working in the soil makes people happy.”

The Planning and Design Department also worked closely with community groups like the Urban Agriculture Coalition, Liu said. One of the coalition’s members is Louisville Grows, a nonprofit that provides grants and technical support to urban farmers and community gardens.

Ked Standfield, Louisville Grows’ executive director, said he’s happy to see the city remove some legal barriers to urban agriculture.

“I see this as Louisville Metro is supportive of what we do,” he said.

Stanfield highlighted that it’s not just community gardens that will benefit from the code changes. 

The council vote also lifted some restrictions on what were called “market gardens” in the zoning rules. Those are small-scale urban farms where residents grow fruits and vegetables to sell. Louisville is also relaxing regulations that used to limit their operation to only areas zoned for commercial use.

It will also help non-profits — like the Americana World Community Center — that run urban farms with a social mission of alleviating food scarcity.

“I can show you 20 places in the city that are producing tons, literally thousands of pounds of food that’s going directly to low-income families,” Stanfield said. 

He said he doesn’t expect the zoning changes to have an impact overnight. He said there will still be financial barriers to creating new community gardens, like the cost of hooking up to the city water supply or creating an irrigation system.

But Stanfield said he hopes it can be a first step toward Louisville providing more assistance.

“You don’t see much news like this, that ‘Hey, the city is helping community gardens,’” he said. “I think that this is a step in the right direction to showing more support and helping us in the urban agriculture community expand what we are able to do here.”

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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