- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

DALLAS (AP) - If they could grow and sell chilies and mustard greens, like they once did halfway around the world, Man Maya Rai and Amrita Sunuwar would feel good about having something to leave to their children and grandchildren “when the time comes.”

Maybe some of the proceeds could go to buy new clothes. Or help feed their families. And they’d have something more productive to do during the day than sit in their apartment.

The women, both in their 60s, grew food for their families and sold the surplus during the 20 years they lived in refugee camps in Nepal. Before that, they farmed in their native Bhutan. They became refugees when that small Himalayan kingdom deported hundreds of thousands of citizens of Nepali origin in the 1990s.

In 2011, a refugee resettlement program brought them to Dallas. Here, all they found was concrete.

Organizations that work with refugees have succeeded in opening a couple of community gardens, including one for Bhutanese refugees in Vickery Meadow. (It’s close to where Rai and Sunuwar live, but not close enough to be easy for them to get to.)

But overall, efforts to expand community gardens and raise more urban produce have struggled to take root in Dallas. In part, that’s because of restrictions that prevent gardens from selling what they grow and limits on the construction of structures for growing crops, according to The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/1BaEr0w ).

That could change.

Earlier this month, the city’s Zoning Ordinance Committee, an advisory board appointed by the Plan Commission, began examining options for loosening restrictions on urban agriculture. And in November the Dallas City Council’s Economic Development Committee asked city staff to consider tweaks to a 2011 ordinance governing urban agriculture.

The ordinance was intended to increase production of fresh foods within the city, but staff members said it hasn’t done so because it’s too restrictive. The Economic Development Committee is expected to revisit the issue in January.

Any significant change would also require adjustments to the zoning of properties. Staff members have suggested to the Zoning Ordinance Committee that current rules prohibiting food sales, animal grazing and aquaculture, among other things, are a hindrance.

Committee members considered whether profits from food sales should only be allowed to cover garden expenses, as in Austin. But some members said part of the point was to encourage broader sales as a way to address “food deserts,” areas where stores selling fresh fruits and vegetables are scarce.

Some members suggested allowing sales only off-site, to keep gardens from becoming markets.

Other questions being kicked around: Should small-scale fish farming be allowed on urban farms, as it is in Chicago and Minneapolis? Or should raising fish be a separate use category in business districts, as it is in Detroit and Seattle?

What about chickens, currently allowed in backyards but not community gardens?

Kevin Lefebvre, the city’s sustainability coordinator, emphasized that community groups growing and selling their products would not be operating huge markets or reaping vast profits.

“The volume they would have to produce as a community garden is limited by the size,” he said. “There’s almost a natural barrier.”

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Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com

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