Monday, February 13, 2012

GA "Right to Grow" Bill # 853

Illegally grown? Even the Georgia peanuts?

GA Bill 853 seeks to remove local regulations that hamper a private property owner's ability to grow food for consumption by the grower and his/her family. This protection includes food crops (annual and perennial plants, shrubs and trees), as well as bees, rabbits and chickens raised in appropriate enclosures.

Currently, unincorporated DeKalb County sets a 2-acre requirement for keeping animals such as egg-laying hens. Individuals found in violation are cited and must dismantle coops and get rid of their hens in very short order. In recent years, DeKalb Code Enforcement has been known to respond to complaints about front yard gardens with a visit to the property owner. These visits did not result in citations or fines because they did not relate to noise or health nuisances affecting neighbors; the visits were essentially complaints about the property owner's choice of landscaping (edible). 

Dangerously fresh! 
In favor: Georgia Organics supports Bill 853. The White House supports home gardens and even beekeeping. The USA has a proud tradition of growing food at home, with victory gardens exemplifying a time when growing food in urban environments reflected responsibility and good sense. Both City of Decatur and Atlanta have flexible food-growing regulations that simultaneously respect an individual's right to provide for his/her family and protect neighbors from nuisances (such as noise from roosters, which are rarely allowed in residential areas). At a local level, we have the Oakhurst, the Clarkston and our own Medlock Park Community Gardens to illustrate that growing food close to home is a win-win. The call for growing food at home exists in a much larger context, well summarized by author Michael Pollan.

Against: The Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) opposes this bill. Their concerns are typical of this debate, and have been addressed by municipalities with successful urban food ordinances.
"Breaking the law, breaking the law..." - Judas Priest

If you care about this issue, whether you oppose or favor this bill, the time to contact your legislators is now. 

Status of this Legislation

The idea of removing restrictions from urban food growing has been floating around for a while (e.g. House Bill 2). With support from multiple legislators, House Bill 853 reflects increasing support of local food sources,  environmentally sound farming, and humane animal husbandry.

As of last week, Bill 853 has been favorably reported upon by the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives.  The next stop should be the Rules Committee, which next meets on February 15. || Rules Committee members

While in the House of Representatives, real-time updates on the status of this bill can be obtained by contacting the Clerk of the House at (404) 656-5015.

Possible outcomes: If supported by the House during the current session, Bill 853 will move to the Senate. If the Senate approves Bill 853, it would proceed to Gov. Nathan Deal for consideration. This all could be expected to happen in April at the earliest, by June otherwise.

How to voice your support or concerns

DeKalb--green is as green does.

The Georgia Food Rights group has put together a document with contact information for Georgia Senators and Legislators. This document is sortable and includes 3 tabs that list senators, house representatives and Agriculture Committee members separately as well as their stance on Bill 853, if known. The document also shows which House members serve in the Rules committee that will meet on Feb. 15. 

Our local representatives are:

Mary Margaret Oliver (State House Representative for District 83): email

Jason Carter (State Senator for District 42): email