Paul Trudeau unlocks a gate that leads to a small backyard greenhouse in the Southside neighborhood of Sacramento. It’s no ordinary greenhouse. Inside a tank holds several fish that he’s using to grow food. The process is called aquaponics.
“The fish exhale ammonia through their gills, and then different beneficial bacteria in the system convert that to nitrate,” says Trudeau.
Nitrate makes great plant food. Trudeau says water from the fish tank circulates to the plants that sit in the water.
“I’ve got a few different kinds of lettuce. This is Mibuna which is a Japanese mustard green kind of thing, some red Russian kale, some chard and collard greens.”
Trudeau had a business license to sell the food to restaurants, but he wanted to expand. He found an oddly-shaped commercial lot in a blighted area and found an owner willing to let him put a greenhouse on it. But then he ran into trouble.
“I went to the city though to check it out, like ‘what would I have to do’ and they were like, ‘Well raising food, that’s not a permitted use in the commercial zone or residential zone,'” says Trudeau. “So I kind of got stopped in my tracks there.”
“That’s what’s called Euclidian zoning.” says Sacramento City Council member Steve Hanson. “That came about a long time ago where we said you should grow in one place, you should live in another, you should work in a third and you do industrial in a fourth.”
Hanson favors changing the ordinance. Despite a lack of opposition, it’s a difficult process. The Sacramento Urban Agriculture Coalition has spent over a year trying to change the law. Organizer Matt Read says zoning changes just take a very long time.
“There’s a whole city process that we didn’t know about before going into it called the Draft Ordinance Review Committee or DORC,” says Read. “It’s seriously what they call it. So anything that’s coming up in this way has to go through the DORC process.”
It’s also when city attorneys get involved. Read says he has a flow chart describing the approval process.