Cultivate Los Angeles In Your Own Yard

Photo by Genevieve Hernandez | <a href="http://cultivatelosangeles.org">Cultivate Los Angeles</a>
Photo by Genevieve Hernandez | Cultivate Los Angeles

See our California Matters with Mark Bittman segment on native pollinators here.

Last month, we profiled a new website called Cultivate Los Angeles, brought to you by a group of urban planning graduate students at UCLA. The site — a culmination of the students' extensive research into the state of urban agriculture in L.A. — aggregates all the information they collected from 88 cities within the county, ranging from community gardens and farms plotted on an interactive map to municipal ordinances and regulations listed by city.

If you've been thinking about turning your yard into an urban homestead, the bureaucratic headache of land use laws, animal permits, and zoning regulations is enough to make anyone abandon the dream "for next season" ... again. Bees in Burbank? Goats in Glendale? About the only thing anyone knows is that keeping chickens is legal in L.A. — but that leaves 87 other cities scratching their heads.

This is where Cultivate LA comes in. The website is a wealth of information for budding homesteaders who want to know if they're up to code before building their first beehive.

Over a duration of six months, Cultivate LA contacted over 3,000 entities to get the ins and outs of urban agriculture in the city. The results on the site are current for this year and include homesteading laws recently passed.

So how can you, the home gardener, take advantage of this research?

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First, let's start with what I consider the most useful document on Cultivate LA: the Urban Agriculture Regulation Reference Chart. This chart lists all 88 cities within L.A. County and which urban ag activities they do or don't allow. Just look up your city, cross-check it with the activity, and you get a simple yes, no, or blank (which indicates the activity is currently unregulated).

It's no surprise that the most urban ag-friendly cities are those with less dense populations or have a history of farming. Rancho Palos Verdes and Palmdale allow all forms of agriculture, while Beverly Hills and Gardena are the most restrictive. Biggest surprise? The seventh most populated city in California — Long Beach — has no designated agricultural zone yet allows everything from bees and chickens to cattle and pigs!

But just because you discover that your city says yes to chickens doesn't mean you should run out right away and bring home some broilers. Each city has specific ordinances that regulate permits, building restrictions, animal keeping, and noise and nuisance.

This is where the Los Angeles County Urban Agriculture Regulations come in handy. Beyond the chart, the document lists the actual municipal code that governs the activity in question. Before, it was difficult to find out which department handled, say, backyard chickens. Do you call City Hall and ask for the folks in charge of animal control? Land use and development? Planning and zoning? Now, you'll at least know which category and code your request falls under, and a simple search in California's Municode Library will turn up the rules.

Once you've made sense of all the municipal mumbo-jumbo (and find that yes, backyard chickens are possible this season!), start planning with our Essential First-Time Chicken-Keeper's Checklist.

If you're interested in reading Cultivate LA's full assessment on the state of urban ag (which also includes farmers' markets, school gardens, and community gardens), you can download their full report here.

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