Projects > Sustainability and Equity in the Massachusetts Food System: A Progress Report

Cambridge Food and Fitness Policy Council

Supporting urban agriculture


Beekeeping is now welcome in Cambridge, thanks to the work of the Cambridge Food and Fitness Policy Council’s Urban Agriculture Task Force. The task force developed a zoning proposal and public health regulation to allow keeping honeybees in Cambridge, and the two laws took effect in December 2017. “Public support for the beekeeping effort was a key reason why the zoning change was adopted,” says Dawn Olcott, task force member and Manager of Nutrition Program Services at the Cambridge Public Health Department.

The task force has been advocating to expand and regulate urban agriculture in the city since it was formed, in 2013, by the Cambridge City Council. Members include representatives from the city’s public health and community development departments, its conservation commission, CitySprouts, and the community.

The multi-year process involved educating city officials about the value of urban agriculture; gathering input from residents, urban beekeepers and state regulators; and researching local beekeeping laws in other Massachusetts and U.S. communities. The health department also had to establish an oversight process for issuing beekeeping permits.

Dawn explains that the Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan has been a useful tool. “The benefit is that the plan gives us all a consistent language. When I need to think about where are we in terms of the big picture, it always helps me to go back to the original vision and concepts.”

Next up for the task force: a zoning ordinance to allow commercial farming; public health regulations for soil safety; and an ordinance and permitting process to allow hen keeping.

The task force is also working with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) to determine how to most equitably implement the urban agriculture policies. Over the past several years, the task force has hosted meetings to gather feedback from various constituencies, including immigrants and low-income residents. “We want to serve the community well with the new policies and regulations,” says Dawn.

Dawn reports that residents have expressed interest in community farms, while restaurateurs and school and university staff members have spoken about farming on rooftops and in freight containers.

The city’s urban agriculture initiative has received support from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Mass in Motion program, the Conservation Law Foundation, MAPC, and Community Health Network Area 17.

Land - Recommendation 3.4: Build on existing models to create preferential zoning and ordinances to support urban agriculture, with guidance from key sector experts such as beekeepers, poultry farmers, and others familiar with the particular challenges of urban farming.