University of Maryland Extension

What if I want to change a law?

Nicole Cook, B.S., J.D., LL.M., Environmental and Agricultural, Faculty Legal Specialist, Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), University of Maryland Eastern Shore

Urban Ag home | Table of contents

Start by being plugged in or connected where you might not already be. Get to know some of the people who are writing the laws and enforcing the laws that uniquely affect your urban farm. Do you know anyone on the planning and zoning committee? What about the city’s waste collection authority—who know about the city’s requirements for disposing of pesticides? Do you know any of the inspectors from the department of health, who might be tasked with inspecting for compliance with a city’s set-back requirements for small livestock structures? Talking with the lawmakers and regulators will help you learn what they think are the most important aspects of the laws, and they, in turn, might learn from you ways that the laws could be improved to support urban farms. Also, having a more than arm’s length relationship with regulators helps build trust and cooperation between you and the enforcement agencies, and the agencies might be more likely to work with you to find a solution to problems.

Public outreach can also help build the social capital and community consensus necessary to make changes in local policy. Advocates of urban farming can provide forums for the discussion, negotiation, and evaluation of urban agriculture issues. The list of strategies/approaches/forums/ways to engage community members and increase awareness, etc., is endless. Many communities have utilized a variety of strategies to engage community members and increase awareness about the benefits of urban agriculture and provided information about pertinent legal issues for urban agriculture. Advocates can engage community members in a variety of forums, from open community meetings to more targeted outreach. For more information about creating a “campaign for urban agriculture,” see Good Laws Good Food Putting Local Food Policy to Work for Our Communities.

An attorney can help you understand and negotiate the procedural process for seeking to change a law or policy as well as help craft language for proposed changes. See above for information about how to locate an attorney in your area. When you interview attorneys, be sure to ask if they would like to volunteer all or some of their time to assist you. Many lawyers provide pro bono assistance for various causes they care about. It can also be a way to expand their client list. Or, if you have a law school in your area, you might contact the school to see if there are law students who could assist you, at no cost to you.

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