The Farmplate Blog

Urban Farms Facing Unfair Tax Burden?

Jeff Gangemi May 21, 2012 News 0 comments

Eagle Street Rooftop Farm, NYC, urban farmAn interesting article from the Austin (TX) Statesman sheds light on some of the challenges of running an urban farming operation. As if growing great produce in confined areas wasn’t difficult enough!

Why would urban farms be subject to higher tax rates than their more rural brethren? That’s because, in Texas at least, an exemption from property taxes was enacted in the 1970’s to keep rural farm land in production, well before the days of urban homesteading and the proliferation of farmers markets. 

The catch? While tax regulations vary by county and state, more stringent rules apply almost universally in urban areas.

In some ways, relieving the burden means updating the law to reflect modern farming realities. If a piece of land must meet some minimum acreage to be designated a farm, then of course urban farms will rarely meet the limit designed for the rural tracts of old. 

And in some locations, farms need to be producing for at least five years to even apply for the tax exemption. An adjustment to that rule could encourage more new farmers to start tending the land.

In the meantime, outdated rules force urban farmers like the ones featured in this piece, who already are struggling to make ends meet, to pay over $11,000 extra per year in taxes than they would if they were outside city limits. 

It’s fascinating to see how different urban farms in various cities adapt to land issues in different ways, from co-opting large rooftops, to repurposing brownfield land, to building pop-up gardens in abandoned buildings.

Read more about one set of challenges below.

“Just a couple of hundred feet from rumbling cars on a busy city street, several domesticated ducks live on an unexpected patch of countryside in East Austin. Their days are spent walking rows of crops, occasionally nibbling on leaves of beet plants but mostly doing their job ridding Springdale Farm of troublesome insects.

The more difficult parts of running the urban farm are left to Paula and Glenn Foore, co-owners of the 5-acre property. The couple are struggling to make a living by selling fresh vegetables and eggs to the public and several Austin restaurants.

A major challenge facing the Foores' farm — and the dozen or so other city farms in the Austin area — centers on property tax rates that are much higher than those at traditional farms and ranches…”

Read more here > 

Photos by Emily Morgan. Top: carrots grow at Eagle Street Rooftop Farm in NYC. Bottom: shoppers select produce at the Union Square Greenmarket.