Vertical farming faces several challenges. Zoning laws being one of them

From Airbnb to Uber, novel companies often have to delicately navigate municipal rules and regulations, including zoning laws, in order to operate in densely populated urban centers. Urban farming startups are no exception. Many are grappling with similar issues in their efforts to grow and distribute food in urban settings.

Zoning challenges, in particular, are an obstacle for large-scale vertical farming companies seeking to operate in US cities. Vertical farming was not envisioned by urban planners and leaders until the last decade or two. It is essential to modernize zoning in order to realize the social, economic, and environmental benefits this nascent industry has to offer.

The term ‘urban farming’ means different things to different people. For some, the first thing that comes to mind is a small backyard and community farms in cities that may span a few vacant lots. These farms (perhaps better described as gardens) serve important functions and are often highlighted in feel-good media stories.

For others — particularly those in the industries of agriculture, technology, and investing — it is the potential of large-scale, indoor vertical farms that is front of mind. That potential includes projects such as Plenty’s vertical farm currently under construction in Compton, California, which is sited in a 95,000-square-foot repurposed warehouse.

While that large-scale project is well underway, zoning is an obstacle that impedes others from getting started in cities across the country. What is zoning? Broadly speaking, it’s a set of laws and regulations, typically set at the municipal level, which govern what activities are allowed within given zones in an urban area. Many zones are typically defined for single use — for example, residential or industrial — in which case they can’t legally host other activities.

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