Longtime urban farmer Sonny Washington supported proposal.
The Boston Zoning Commission this morning unanimously approved a zoning change to turn two vacant city-owned lots in Dorchester into urban farms.
The commission approved a BRA "urban agriculture overlay district" for lots on Glenway and Tucker streets.
Victory Programs' ReVision Urban Farm will create a farm on a vacant city lot at 23-29 Tucker St., while City Growers will build a farm at 131 Glenway St.
The two organizations will lease their parcels for five years; the underlying residential zoning remains in place in case the city decides to put housing on them.
Unlike existing community gardens, whose participants raise food only for themselves, both ventures will grow food for use by others or sale - for example at farmers' markets in Dorchester and Mattapan. Proponents say the farms will mean more affordable, healthy food in areas that desperately need it. The zoning change only allows for vegetable and fruit growing; farm animals were not allowed.
Under the proposal by the city Department of Neighborhood Development, both farms will grow produce in raised beds with a membrane separating them from the ground underneath. The soil will be clean dirt donated by area farms and will be tested twice a year for contamimants.
Officials say this eliminates the need for testing the existing soil on the parcels, because it will never come in contact with the plants. Wendy Heiger-Bernays, a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health, said that if she lived on one of the parcels, she would have no problems growing food for her kids in these raised beds - which meet federal standards originally developed through testing in Dorchester in the 1990s.
That wasn't good enough for District 4 (Dorchester) Councilor Charles Yancey, however. After grudgingly acknowledging the city hearing process on the proposal no longer treated his district like "a plantation or a colony," Yancey urged the commission to reject the zoning proposal until after the city tested the underlying soil. He noted one of the sites was the former home of an oil company and that he would hate to think the commission would approve anything that might have "the possibility that the site can poison people down the line."
Yancey wondered why, if the proposal isn't such a good idea, the city didn't propose pilot projects on the Greenway or Chesterfield Street in Readville (Ed. note: One guess who lives there).
Commission member Jane Brayton said she found Yancey's comments "extremely offensive" and that she refused to believe anybody in city government wanted to poison people.
The Boston Redevelopment Authority says it will use the experiences of the two farms to help guide development of a more permanent, citywide zoning change that could allow everything from farms atop high-rise rooftops to chickens and rabbits.