Wheat Ridge: “Why a Denver Suburb Has Gone All-In for Farming” — The Atlantic CityLab

The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020
The Flatirons from Wheat Ridge photo via Wheat Ridge 2020

Here’s an excerpt from Anna Bergren Miller’s CityLab article:

Wheat Ridge, Colorado, is experiencing an agricultural renaissance. Once known informally as Carnation City, the Denver suburb built its economy on a foundation of flower nurseries, apple orchards, and assorted vegetable crops. But by the time Wheat Ridge incorporated in 1969, residential and commercial development had eaten up much of the town’s farmland.

Five decades later, when city leaders sat down to rewrite the community’s comprehensive plan, they identified urban agriculture as a focal point. “We wanted to move the city forward and encourage investment, but we didn’t want to lose its unique charm, which is largely based on our agricultural history,” says Ken Johnstone, director of community development for Wheat Ridge.

“On top of that, we’re not blind,” Johnstone adds. “We weren’t the only city getting grassroots interest in local farming and food production. We saw it as an opportunity to brand ourselves.”[…]

The changes, which went into effect in July 2011, allow urban gardens (including for-profit farms operated by either the homeowner or a contractor) in all zoning districts. Farmer’s markets and produce stands are likewise authorized throughout Wheat Ridge. The city has streamlined the process as much as possible, eliminating the need for urban-garden permits. (Building permits are required prior to erecting signage or structures within an urban garden, and farmers selling at markets or produce stands must hold business licenses.)

Interestingly, the city’s embrace of urban farming isn’t a measure to keep development at bay, and neither does it reflect “planned shrinkage” (as in some parts of Detroit, for instance). Wheat Ridge is booming: New home construction is brisk, and commercial and retail vacancy rates are exceptionally low. Agriculture is part of what’s making Wheat Ridge attractive to newcomers. “Anecdotally, people I’ve had conversations with are moving here because of [the agricultural] environment,” says Johnstone.

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