In addition to longer-term leases, the URA needed a policy to outline terms for people who will use its Farm-a-Lot program — including specifics about upkeep, improvements and, potentially, abandonment.
In working with the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council to develop the urban agriculture policy, “we learned, similar to other development projects, that everyone is different,” says Davidson. “So, we needed to set a policy that provided enough of a framework that if a customer were to come to us and say, ‘This is what I want to do,’ we could provide an outline and it could be consistent enough to measure standards against, while being open enough to reflect that every farm is different and we need to be able to adapt.”
Even people who don’t have a green thumb could benefit from the work that went into the Farm-a-Lot program and longer-term leases. The agency also has reformed its land management program, called Land Care, says Clark.
“The real estate department is looking at our real estate to make sure we’re being as proactive as possible about making land available for end users,” Clark says. “Our disposition process to buy a property didn’t necessarily speak as easily to urban ag. This is a pilot, so there could be other end uses where the lease-to-own situation makes the most sense. We’re piloting a different way to dispose of our properties, particularly those that aren’t meant for large-scale economic development projects.”
The URA board has been supportive of the urban ag idea, says Davidson.
“While this is coming from a place of making sure we’re being proactive in managing our own portfolio of land, it didn’t stop there,” she says. “Yes, it has an economic development component to it, but there are second-tier benefits like helping with food deserts and teaching children about healthy eating.
“We’re not looking at this as just a transaction-based program. We’re making sure to set baselines to measure the pilot program against, and we’ll work with partners to make sure we can help them learn from our experiences.”