As the hunger for locally grown food increases, Fairfax County’s new zoning rules dramatically expand the locations where community gardens, farmers markets and home gardens are allowed.
Under the new regulations the Board of Supervisors adopted on June 25, community gardens may bloom in open space on the ground or rooftops on residential, commercial and industrial properties.
Now, fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers and plants can be grown from the rooftops of office high-rises in Tysons to opens spaces at houses of worship to the common areas of suburban homeowners associations.
Previously, the county’s zoning rules limited community gardens to planned residential communities like Burke or Reston. These gardens now are allowed without restriction in open spaces as long as they are under two acres, and they aren’t the principal use on a property. However, community gardens aren’t allowed on single-family home sites.
With one in three U.S. households growing their own food at home or in a community garden according to the National Gardening Association, the county made its zoning changes to meet this demand. There’s also increasing interest in gardening among millennials — 18 to 34 year olds now make up 29% of gardeners according the association’s 2018 data.
County officials point to the long waitlists for the Park Authority’s nine community gardens as an example of how this national trend is playing out locally. Because of the previous zoning rules, there are only about six private community gardens in the county today.
The new rules can also help to address food deserts, areas where it is difficult to find affordable fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. For example, the Fairfax Food Council, a county-sponsored coalition, already offers community gardening workshops to teach residents how to grow their own food.
As another way to increase access to fresh, local food, the new zoning law broadens when and where farmers markets may operate and what they can sell. They can be open all year now whereas they were limited to April through November before. These markets can now be located anywhere, as long as there is adequate parking and access to the site; for example, a farmers market can locate in an apartment building parking lot, an industrial or office complex or a community pool.
The rules also expand what farmers markets can sell. In addition to seasonal or perishable produce, they also can sell so-called value-added farm products, like pickles, salsa, meats, baked goods, lotions, candles and hemp products.
For homeowners, the zoning law ends the prohibition of edible gardens in front yards for lots less than 36,000 square feet. These fruit, vegetable, herb or flower gardens must be set back 15 feet from the front lot line, and they are limited to 100 square feet. Compost areas are not permitted in front yards.
While many homeowners may be surprised that gardens were banned in front yards, these zoning restrictions were put in place in late-70s due to concerns about curb appeal.
For more information, contact the Fairfax County Zoning Administration Division at 703-324-1314, TTY 711.