Why Being Able to Grow Food Where You Live Matters
In this section:
Being able to grow food where you live can help:
- Improve food security from lack of healthy, affordable, and culturally relevant food
- Increase healthy eating, support healthy weights, and reduce nutrition-related disease from lack of healthy, affordable, and culturally relevant food options
- Aid in responding to food shortages
- Provide greater biodiversity for pollinators
- Reduce environmental impacts of industrial agriculture that contribute to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption used in transportation
- Improve local economies (where laws permit sale of produce) and can increase food donations to local food shelves
- Encourage people to get outdoors, which can have mental and physical health benefits
- Promote physical activity in seniors to build strength, endurance, and ward off osteoporosis
- Improve mental wellness in seniors by lowering the risk of dementia, improving mood, and lowering anxiety
- Promotes intergenerational interaction and a sense of community
For these reasons, among many, many local and state governments have passed laws supporting urban agriculture, community gardens, and cottage food laws. Find examples of these laws in the Healthy Food Policy Project Policy Database. However, there are also laws and policies that can create barriers for these activities. Keep reading to learn more about how living in rental housing, manufactured home parks, and common interest communities may impact how and where you can grow food.
“Health Benefits of Urban Agriculture” by Anne C. Bellows, Katherine Brown & Jac Smit
“Gardening for Health: A Regular Dose of Gardening” by Richard Thompson
“Gardening in Assisted Living” – Senior Care
“Indoor Gardening for Seniors: Health Benefits and Tips to Get Started” by Claire Samuels
Practical Considerations for Growing Food at Home
Plants need space, light, and healthy growing conditions to thrive. For these reasons, there are some important considerations to keep in mind when growing food at home:
- Space is necessary to allow your plants enough room to grow. Potential space considerations include: vertical space for plants to grow tall; horizontal space for multiple plants if planted together in the same pot; and space for each plant to access the appropriate amount of light.
- Light location and availability are important considerations when growing plants indoors. If the indoor space lacks natural light, it may be necessary to purchase a specialized plant light or consider options for growing plants outdoors. Consider the energy use of adding lights and check that lights do not exceed the safety capacity of your home.
- Growing conditions, such as temperature, humidity, and growing medium, require consideration. It is also important to know the general condition of the soil: is it safe to grow food in? Is the proposed garden located where there might have been contaminants, like gasoline in a former parking area or lead from old paint chips? These considerations may also influence whether indoor or outdoor growing conditions are preferred.
Safety considerations are also important to keep in mind. When growing food indoors, plants should be maintained and monitored to avoid pests that could lead to infestation. Perhaps a less commonly considered factor is fire safety. Fire safety considerations may require unobstructed access to an egress window in each room, which may impact where or how food is grown indoors.
These considerations of space, light, growing conditions, and safety will likely influence whether growing food indoors or outside is suitable for your space and growing needs. Learn more about considerations for growing your own food at FoodPrint.
Growing Food in Rental Housing
Leases outline the conditions of a rental agreement and set out the parties’ rights and responsibilities in the rental relationship. However, many leases do not specifically address tenants’ use of private or common areas for gardening. This may leave a tenant uncertain about how they can grow food at home.
Renters should look at their leases to see if there are limitations on how and where they can grow food. State or local laws may protect renters by not allowing certain rights or landlord obligations to be waived in leases.1 This means that lease provisions that contradict these laws will not be enforceable in court. Provisions may also be void for being contrary to public policy or unconscionable.
A lease may require tenants to:
- use designated spaces for gardening
- meet specific appearance standards
- obtain prior approval from the landlord to garden outside
- restore the premises to their original condition when they move
- leave in-ground plants at the end of the tenancy
Renters living in public housing may face added restrictions to growing food. These restrictions may be imposed by the local housing authority, such as in 2017 when the Northampton Housing Authority in Massachusetts prohibited tenants’ existing personal gardens at Hampshire Heights, only permitting plants in containers on resident porches. Physical inspection standards may also impact tenants growing food in public housing including standards for litter; trip hazards; sharp edges; sidewalks, walkways, and ramps; and others.2 For example, in 2019 the Hawaii Public Housing Authority justified its decision to remove a long-standing community garden at Makua Alii Senior Center in Honolulu by citing violations of federal physical inspection standards.
For more information about growing food in rental housing, review Common Questions in Rental Housing.
Examples of Restrictions on Growing Food in Rental Housing
This resident handbook for a university housing cooperative requires tenants to use designated spaces for gardening:
“You are welcome to plant gardens in areas as designated and specified below. . . . No vegetables may be planted near apartment buildings in the garden areas next to apartment or in flower pots. . . . The designated vegetable plots are available for annual gardening with a nominal fee and deposit. The annual fee for garden plots support the costs of maintaining the garden sites before and after growing seasons.”
– Commonwealth Terrace Cooperative, University of Minnesota, Resident Handbook, page 27 (2021)
This property management company’s lease agreement requires a tenant to obtain the landlord’s prior approval to garden outside:
“Tenant shall not install any plants, trees, flowers, or shrubs without prior written approval from Landlord. Any unauthorized installation will be considered damage and Tenant agrees to pay for the removal of such plantings and the cost to restore the affected areas to the original condition.”
– First Rate Property Management, Inc., Rental/Lease Agreement, (2021)
This public housing authority lease agreement requires the tenant to restore the premises to their original condition when they move:
“Tenant is responsible to restore the yard to its original condition before the garden was planted prior to vacating the premises.”
– Wichita Housing Authority, Public Housing Dwelling Lease Agreement, (2016)
Growing Food in Manufactured Home Parks
A manufactured home on a rented lot may be owned by the resident or rented from the park owner. Together, the rental agreement, park rules and policies, and state and local law determine whether and how manufactured home park residents can grow food where they live. State laws governing manufactured home parks vary by state, so residents and advocates should research both state and local laws that apply to the home.
In determining where to grow food outside, manufactured home park residents need to determine: 1) who is responsible for maintaining the park grounds and lots, and 2) if there are restrictions on what can be grown on lots or in common areas. Residents should consult their leases and park rules and policies.
Manufactured home park residents seeking to grow food outside may be required to:
- use designated spaces
- meet specific appearance standards and/or landscaping requirements
- obtain prior approval from the park owner to garden outside
- obtain prior approval before planting trees, including fruit trees
- restore the premises to their original condition when they move
- leave in-ground plants at the end of the tenancy
Manufactured home park residents should also be aware that state and local laws may affect responsibilities and requirements for owners and residents of manufactured home parks. For example:
- State and local laws often require the owner to maintain the park’s grounds and lawns and place residents in charge of maintaining their lots. In these circumstances, a park owner may be deterred from delegating control of shared spaces to residents for growing food. If gardens become neglected, the owner must either maintain the garden or restore the common area to less labor-intensive landscaping.
- Local laws may require park owners to maintain a lawn throughout the park. These local laws may have been intended to encourage green space and recreational spaces for residents, but they may cause confusion regarding whether a “lawn” includes gardens or other landscaping when the term is not defined.
- Local laws may not always expressly state whether gardening is permitted. For example, a city may expressly permit non-commercial gardening in some residential districts, but not list gardening as a permitted use in the manufactured housing district.
Examples of Restrictions on Growing Food in Manufactured Home Parks
This local law requires the owner of a manufactured home park to maintain the park’s common landscaping:
“Every mobile home park owner shall be responsible for maintaining in good condition all common landscaping in the park. . . . Mobile home residents shall be responsible for maintaining mobile home lots on which they reside in a clean, well-maintained and sanitary condition.”
– Fort Collins, Colo., Code §§ 18-6(c)(3), (d)
This local law requires manufactured home parks to maintain a “lawn” without specifying whether that permits or includes gardens:
“Every manufactured home park shall be landscaped and maintained with lawn on the entire park except for areas used for streets, sidewalks, patios, manufactured home parking areas or vehicle parking areas.”
– East Bethel, Minn., Code § 38-24(4)
Hinckley, Minnesota expressly permits non-commercial gardening in multiple dwelling and family dwelling districts, but does not mention non-commercial gardening in the manufactured housing district. Hinckley, Minn., Code §§ 155.025–155.027
California state law requires manufactured home park residents to obtain management’s prior written permission before planting trees, including fruit trees. Cal. Civ. Code § 798.37.5(d)
Growing Food in Common Interest Communities
Common interest communities—which may include condominiums, townhomes, cooperatives, retirement communities, and other housing developments with shared facilities or common areas—may have restrictions on growing food. These developments may restrict growing food through express and implied property covenants and rules contained in governing documents such as bylaws; articles of association; declarations of covenants, conditions, and restrictions; or operating rules.3
Common covenants or rules may:
- designate lot maintenance and landscaping as the responsibility of the association
- prohibit gardens, vegetable gardening, or edible landscaping
- include appearance standards or landscaping requirements that may restrict gardening activity
- limit the location of gardens to back or side yards
- require prior approval of any planting in common areas or require the owner pay the association’s expenses used to repair alterations made without approval
- specify all planting in common areas becomes common property
The penalty for violating a common interest community’s rule is typically a fine. Depending on the community’s rules and the nature of the rule transgression, however, a violation could even lead to foreclosure.
Examples of Restrictions on Growing Food in Common Interest Communities
This cooperative restricts vegetable gardening to community gardens:
“We have community gardens. Please use these community gardens for the vegetables you grow. . . . In front yards, members are asked to plant flowers, not vegetables for consumption.”
– Arrowwood Hills Cooperative (Ann Arbor MI), Member Handbook (2018)
This community permits the association to remove vegetation or landscaping at its discretion and reserves the right to create a perpetual easement to the association to plant and landscape grass and plants of any nature on a property owner’s lot. Bradford Manor Subdivision (Gwinnett County, GA), Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, §§ 6.21 and 7.02(a) (April 10, 2001)
This condominium association defines common areas as all outdoor grounds excluding resident patios; specifies that plants in common areas become common property; restricts vegetable gardening to containers on patios and decks; and requires homeowners to pay any expenses associated with repairing unapproved alterations in common areas. The association also requests homeowners “use water sparingly and don’t be wasteful with too frequent plant watering.” Stonewall Condominium Association (Atlanta, GA), Living in Stonewall Handbook (Aug. 2020)
This homeowner’s association prohibits “[a]ctivities or conditions which would induce, breed, or harbor infectious plant diseases,” which could potentially restrict gardening activity. Camino Village (Sacramento, CA), First Restated Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions of Camino Village Homeowners Association
This planned development requires that all vegetable gardens be screened or fenced, out of view of streets or neighboring lots, and located in the backyard. Shepherd’s Creek Planned Development (Shelby County, TN), Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions, Section 8.11 (2018)
This homeowners association limits gardening to residents’ backyards and establishes appearance requirements:
“Vegetable gardening is prohibited in front of all homes. Vegetable gardening in rear of homes must be kept in a neat manner and pests must be controlled.”
– Morningview Ridge Homeowners Association, Good Neighbor Policy, Article 6 (11)(f)
The sample covenants, conditions, and restrictions provided by the California Association of Homeowners Associations designates lot maintenance and landscaping as the responsibility of the association and requires prior approval for planting in common areas.
1For example, Minnesota law prohibits leases from waiving landlord obligations of both habitability and maintenance of common areas. Minn. Stat. 504B.161, subd. 1(b) & 2.
2Local public housing authorities are required to maintain public housing in compliance with federal law and regulations that require public housing to be “decent, safe, sanitary and in good repair.” 24 C.F.R. § 5.703 (physical condition standards for HUD housing); 24 C.F.R. § 5.701(c) (applicability to public housing). To ensure properties comply with this requirement, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has issued physical condition standards to address potential health and safety hazards. 24 C.F.R. §§ 5.703(a)-(b), (d)-(f).
3See Kimberly M. Reed, Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, Attorneys’ Title Guaranty Fund, Inc., https://www.atgf.com/tools-publications/pubs/covenants-conditions-and-restrictions (explaining the difference between covenants, conditions, and restrictions).