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Local Government & Land Use

Local Government and Land Use poster

Highlights from SUMMIT, day one, May 11th:
•    EDUCTION OF POLICY MAKERS — first step; educate local elected officials about the value of benefits of local sustainable food economy particularly on the economic development opportunities; include this in their orientation when they take office.
•    State needs a vision for how it will grow that includes consideration of how to build a local, food economy!
•    Discussion — hard to discern between a real farmer and a developer – want to be flexible and farmer-friendly but developers often pose as farmers; need to bear this in mind and look at taxation policies.
•    Really like the idea of developing 3 policy tool-kits: urban, rural and urban-fringe—tool-kits to include examples of policies, best practices, procedures.

Original WIT meeting facilitator:

  • John Day, Cabarrus County Manager


  • Warren Miller and Nancy Creamer



Local governments can take significant actions to help facilitate local food systems. While some actions are clearly outside of their realm and must be tackled at the state or federal level, or by NGOS or other agencies, clearly there are some relevant and important actions local governments can take. Examples of local government initiatives include the establishment of county-based Food Policy Councils ( or providing guidelines and incentives for purchasing local foods (for example, Woodbury County, Iowa became the first county to mandate that food purchased by the county — for consumption in its jail, juvenile detention centers and other cafeterias — be grown and processed within a 100-mile radius). Planning departments are also playing a role in local food systems and in 2007 the American Planning Association adopted a policy guide on Community and Regional Food Planning: The National Association of Counties also released a guide “Counties and Local Food Systems” with examples and case studies for county involvement:


North Carolina Perspective

Some county governments are beginning to tackle local food systems in a comprehensive way. Cabarrus County for example, is formalizing a Food Policy Council, seeking proposals for the preparation of a community food assessment, has initiated an incubator farm program, developed an award winning land use plan, along with the City of Concord, that protects surrounding farmland, and has recently received funding from the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund to construct an animal harvest facility at a small, family owned processing plant for locally raised beef, pork, sheep and goats. The Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund housed at NCDA &CS supports the purchase of agricultural conservation easements (on farm, forest, and horticulture lands), and funds public and private enterprise programs that provide for infrastructure needs required by local food systems. Many counties are taking advantage of these resources, but the fund is neither permanent, nor stable with its funding allocation from the state legislature. There are state legislative barriers to counties providing certain incentives for local food systems, such as decreasing the minimum acreage threshold in present use value tax programs.


Issues Under Discussion

Other examples of what local governments can do include: public education about local food issues; recruiting and retaining more local food producers; earmark revenue from deferred property taxes paid on farmland that goes out of production for use in supporting the local food system, providing for a wide range of commercial and niche farming opportunities; encouraging regional food processing/storage/distribution facilities; creating farmers markets, fostering more equitable access to healthy foods; increasing land trusts and conservation easements; use state and city owned land for food production; include farms in greenway planning; and create agriculture economic development coordinators.


The initial WIT meeting produced the following ideas, to discussed, developed, and expanded further at the SUMMIT:


Game Changer

Introduce a legislative bill establishing a goal for the amount of locally grown food consumed in North Carolina (e.g.10% in five years), as well as the creation of state policies/regulations that support local governments and the local food economy. State direction would facilitate county action. Legislation should specifically include establishment of a dedicated funding source for the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund ( e.g., a filing fee on land documents). With increased funding, money could be made available to conduct county level baselines through community food assessments (that could feed into a state baseline), redevelop the long-lost food infrastructure, and other supporting efforts in addition to preserving farmland.

Other Statewide Action Plan Ideas

  • Education Initiative for Commissioners, county managers, and other local government officials who are interested in farm land preservation and building a local food economy. This could be tied to the use of a local food performance metric in the County Commissioners Association scorecard. School of Government and County Commissioners Association can help teach the elected officials and administrators about the benefits to the state of local food systems.
  • Amend Present Use Value Program—Change law so that present use value tax assessment applies to four acres and above (vs 10 acres and above). This will accommodate intensive truck farms, and other operations that are profitable at small acreages. This has broad applicability to local food systems.
  • Address zoning ordinances that affect housing on small farms. Many intensively managed diversified farms support interns and apprentices, or are multi-family operations. Zoning ordinances should include provisions to allow more than one household, or housing for interns on farms.
  • Offer incentives for sustainable and local agriculture as an element of local economic development efforts. Broad authority for local governments to fund economic development efforts exists in NCGS 158-7.1.
  • State authorization for local governments to levy impact fees on development (particularly for development on former farmland) to support local agriculture.

Local Action Ideas

  • County commissioner education: (e.g. for each dollar spent on urban development, services cost the county 1.25).
  • Utilizing Cooperative Extension for local government education and/or identifying local producers/ and/or additional food assessment.
  • Local governments should purchase local foods for schools, other institutions, and events that include serving food. Put bonus points into bid consideration so it doesn’t have to be based just on the least expensive food.
  • Facilitate linking transitioning farmers to those who want to farm (e.g. Hispanic community).
  • Support local food brokers to connect supply with retail/institutional opportunities.
  • Promote and facilitate incubator farms.
  • Establish local Food Policy Councils.
  • Complete a farmland preservation plan.
  • Establish land use regulations and utility extension policies that encourage development in areas where public infrastructure already exists and discourage development in rural areas or where productive lands exist.


Notes from Local Government and Land Use WIT SUMMIT Breakout Session:

Game Changer Idea:

Legislative bill establishing a goal for the amount of locally grown food consumed in NC

General Themes

  • Education of policy makers – first step; educate local elected officials about the value of benefits of local, sustainable food economy particularly on the economic development opportunities; include this in their orientation when they take office.
  • State needs a vision for how it will grow that includes consideration of how to build a local, food economy
  • Discussion – hard to discern between a real farmer and a developer—want to be flexbile and farmer-friendly but developers often pose as farmers; need to bear this in mind and look at taxation policies
  • Develop 3 policy tool kits: urban, rural and urban-fringe—tool kits to include examples of policies, best practices, procedures.
  • Have access to risk management and access to credit
  • Change to mandate

  • Promote visual impact analysis
  • Should the state get involved in annexing?
  • How do we use other models brand ourselves and add value to product? Don’t forget new farmers

Amend Present Use Value Program

  • Why not a scale?
  • Ability to differentiate real farmers from others

State authorization for local governments for levy impact fees on development

  • May not sit well locally
  • Look for win win

Table Top Local Action Ideas & Comments

Game Changer Idea Comments:

  • Fair Contracts
  • Risk management and credit
  • Access to public land for agricultural use
  • Barriers to self provisioning
  • Why 4 acres? Sliding scale
  • Annexing issue- right to farm
  • Market model reexamination
  • Access to city state county employees for direct marketing
  • Agricultural land development impact plan for new community planning
  • Urban counties- food shed collaborations
  • 3 policy platforms @ state level for adoption and local level demographic and differences
  • Advocacy tool kit- leaders list for implementation
  • Template for participants
  • Policy that has regional consideration, demand consideration, direct policy (able to implement)
  • Easements for water/land protection
  • Funding source
  • Impact fees in counties without zoning boundaries purchase

Other State Action Ideas

Education initiative for local government officials

  • Demonstrate Jobs & $ locally for supporting local farmers
  • Overall positive impact on health
  • Farms help to keep open space
  • Customize for urban/rural
  • Making the $ value clear to LG officials
  • Farmland preservation as economic development
  • Advocate for a comprehensive, cohesive policy on land use
  • Provide information cost benefits of ag
  • Fiscal analysis of ag v. development

Amend present use value program

  • Change definition of ‘farmer’
  • Waive payment of 3 yrs back taxes for those landowners who sell for conservation purposes
  • Advocate for broader definition of program requirements and enforcement policies for small scale acreage growers
  • Educate public officials on actual costs of ag for work in communities to address concerns for changing press use to lower acreage

Address zoning ordinances that affect housing on small farms

  • Revise zoning code to integrate ag uses into residential and mixed use zoning code
  • Clarify ‘address’, implement? change? Make model language
  • Encourage ag zoning tied to a comprehensive planning policy
  • Temporary housing for training workers

Offer incentives for sustainable and local agriculture

  • Risk management and credit for small to medium farmers
  • Cost share state program

State authorization for local governments for levy impact fees on development

  • Waive impact fee?

Other Ideas

  • Farmers cooperative- food packaging plant helps us package a product to sell to a local government
  • Package foods so they can be used by institutions and assure a consistent product
  • Provide general template for WCPP but acknowledge local identity
  • Integrative zoning, including ag production in development
  • Do food assessment to determine what is being grown- GIS specific
  • Orange Co. and other LG’s as good examples best practices, can reapply those in new counties/LG’s
  • Make understood the economic/% value to local players, economic scorecard for sustainable ag and clarify the circulator/competitive effect

County Commissioner Education

  • Need .edu on benefits of conservation easements
  • Add in public education on taxes and econ value of farms

Local governments should purchase local foods

  • County gov’t could provide $ incentive to schools for using ‘x’% of local food in schools
  • Evaluate and retrofit old mall with incentives

Facilitate linking transitioning farmers

  • Need inventory of existing farmers, beginning farmers and their plans to ‘match’ them
  • Promote agritoursim
  • County government buy farms and lease back to beginning farmers

Support local food brokers in each county

  • Local government should purchase local foods- caterer uses at least 10% local foods

Could you require TIP?

  • Local government property that is unused should be leased for farming

Develop markets for local and sustainable products

  • Set up ‘buy local’ campaign for local governments
  • Support local farmers markets
  • Ordinances related to diversification (B&B) which classify efforts in expensive categories need ordinances which decrease financial cost for small operations, restrictions on types of housing
  • Greater communication with farmers and county commissioners and health department, etc. will help them understand each other

Complete a farmland preservation plan

  • Designate rollback taxes from deferred property tax for land conservation/ sustainable ag
  • Make it an ED plan

Any suggestions for local action ideas presented today? Any additional local action ideas?

  • Setting a measurable goal for locally consumed food gives communities something to work towards
  • Dedicated state finding for farmland may encourage counties to float boards for farmland presidents
  • Takes time
  • Great ideas, need to be tied to overarching state policy/mandate/goals regarding land use planning
  • Have farmers run for local elective office!
  • Educate city/county managers, department heads, purchasing local food
  • Make local sustainable food production data available
  • Show economic benefit of local sustainable ag
  • Take the comprehensive view
  • NC needs an overall vision of how it wishes to grow including agriculture
  • Need statewide comprehensive ag preservation and economic development plan
  • The legislation doesn’t relate to local governments- this seems a core flow of it as a game-changer for local governments and land use

What is important for us to know about other discussed ideas? Any additional state action ideas?

  • States can help find and encourage community food assessments that include mapping the local food system and what it could look like in 5 years
  • Access to public land for AG sites
  • For model ordinances language, refer to the Loudoun county zoning ordinance which was a comprehensive farmland protection ordinance that addressed all land use aspects of a local farm economy including zoning accommodation and protection of worker housing, supplemental farm support and service activities, and heritage tourism/ agritourism provisions. I helped write it and can be available for further info if needed – Betsy Kane
  • Sliding scale present use value
  • Revisit farmers market model
  • When legislation is created, its important that farmers are involved to include some common sense ideas
  • School of government needs to talk about the importance of agriculture with new commissioners
  • It was mentioned that a win/win scheme between developers and farmers be applied. Technically it exists, called the transfer of development rights. it was not been used in NC- if so, only rarely
  • How to allow and incorporate innovative ideas such as ag production in a development
  • How to allow

What is important for us to know about this game changer idea? Additional questions, strategies, concerns?

  • Community farm trusts and garden trusts secure land in a non profit ownership model providing affordable access for food production
  • Incentives for developers to include active ag components in new community development
  • Local ag focus of financial services think tank- how can we address farm tenure issues in the private sector
  • NEMO at NCSU as part of ed for government officials
  • Incentives for ag tax reduction on equipment and other infrastructure
  • Prevent overwhelming paralysis by crafting this portion of the flood policy plan by breaking down ideas into manageable doable politically feasible initiatives rather than broad sweeping ideas
  • Access to city and county employees for direct marketing campaign
  • Create mechanism for farmers to communicate ordinance needs and issues to planning staff, county commissioners, etc.