Dallas Officials Make Life Easier on Urban Farmers, but Not Before Obsessing Over Corn

Vets James Jeffers (left) and Steve Smith are farming Oak Cliff.
Vets James Jeffers (left) and Steve Smith are farming Oak Cliff.
Dylan Hollingswoth

Liz Goulding is the former leader of Slow Food Dallas and a contributor to the Dallas Observer.

The Dallas City Council this week voted on a motion to accept a number of language changes in the community garden ordinance passed in 2011. Among other things, the word "community" was replaced with "urban" to make it clear that the sale of locally grown produce from urban gardens is allowed, offsite in residential areas and onsite in commercial areas. The wording proposed was the product of a year's worth of work from a group of urban agriculture activists, farmers, and beekeepers. I sat through a lot of those meetings. I thought perhaps all the coalition building and hand-wringing was overkill, but this week proved me wrong. Really wrong.

Somehow a discussion about the future of urban agriculture became a discussion about corn. I wish I could tell you that the corn was a proxy for some sort of larger discussion about the role of growing food in the urban landscape, but it seemed to literally just be about whether the ability to grow corn in your front yard is the end of the world or not. There is a new litmus test in town: pro-corn or anti-corn?

Councilwoman Sandy Greyson kicked it all off by expressing her concern that cornstalks in the front yard are unsightly. Pretty soon Councilmen Dwaine Caraway and Sheffie Kadane joined the chorus bemoaning the eyesore that is a row of corn in a yard. There was clearly an anti-corn consortium on the council and the longer the discussion continued the more it seemed to grow. This went on for almost an hour. Councilwoman Greyson wanted the proposal taken to the Quality of Life Committee for further discussion.

When a row of corn is the biggest eyesore we have in this city, we can all pack it up and go home because our collective work as an engaged citizenry will be complete.

All that wasn't even the worst part about the whole discussion. The worst part was that the proposal had nothing to do with the legality of growing corn or any other vegetable. You can already do it. In your front yard, backyard, whatever. It's totally legal. It was a little mortifying to watch a group of people fall down some sort of corn-filled well for that length of time.

In the end, the motion to take it back to committee failed and the motion to accept the proposed language changes passed, but it was a squeaker, 8-6. By then I had almost thrown up at least twice, first from disbelief and then from fear of a year's worth of work being sucked into some sort of warped cornhole.

Will more people grow corn because now they can sell it at a farmer's market? Maybe? Is that a bad thing? I thought we filed things like that under "World Class City Stuff," so what do I know. Will there be code violations? Of course there will. Luckily code enforcement has updated language to show them what is and isn't allowed in an urban garden. When the city is run amuck with wild and crazy urban gardens that are tearing our urban fabric apart on a level we haven't seen since the highways were built, I will be the first person to take all this back and admit I was wrong.

Because what I am pretty sure is going to happen is we are going to see more Bonton Farms and Dolphin Heights Community Gardens. If his disdain for the cornfield is any indication, all this food growing stuff is Councilman Kadane's worst nightmare. I think it sounds great, so sign me up for a row of corn in my yard this summer. If I am feeling really crazy, some okra too.

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