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Land Use Policies

Implementing policies that incentivize and encourage the use of public and private land for agricultural purposes can increase the amount of food grown locally and preserve an important economic factor in rural communities. Policies can be combined with other food access models to make implementation easier. For example, ordinances allowing public land to be used for community gardens can shorten the process of starting community gardens at a later date. Policies also communicate to the community that local food production and access to healthy foods are both local priorities. Policy examples include:

  • Tax breaks for farmland owners. Farmers and other local land owners may apply for their property to be assessed for use value rather than property value. If classified as farmland, the land may be taxed at a lesser value and the property owner thus eligible for a reduction in taxes. It is worth noting that tax relief credits vary between states, so research on local policies is warranted.
  • Right to Farm ordinances protect eligible farmers and ranchers from lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations. National AgLaw Center compiled state legislative documents on this topic.
  • Agricultural conservation easements are applied by current landowners and require successive owners of their property to use it for agricultural purposes. Easements are voluntary, legally bound deed restrictions that limit commercial development and protect active farmland.

Resources to Learn More

Land Use Ordinances & Development Standards
Community reference tool providing examples of land use ordinances and development.
Organization(s): Pennsylvania Land Trust Association

Licensing and Zoning: Tools for Public Health
Explains the differences between licensing and zoning and discusses how each type of regulation can be used to improve public health.
Organization(s): ChangeLab Solutions; National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity
Date: 2012

New England Food Policy: Building a Sustainable Food System
Provides policy recommendations for addressing common issues related to farmland access, conservation, and preservation.
Organization(s): American Farmland Trust; Conservation Law Foundation; Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group
Date: 3/2014

Planning For Food Access and Community-Based Food Systems: A National Scan and Evaluation of Local Comprehensive and Sustainability Plans
Evaluation of local food system sustainability plans from across the U.S. Includes lessons learned and recommendations for future food system planning.
Author(s): Hodgson, K.
Organization(s): American Planning Association, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Date: 11/2012