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Council supports wineries and farm breweries

This week the County Council unanimously passed a zoning measure that creates a clear and reasonable path for farm-based breweries, wineries, cideries, and distilleries to locate and grow here in our agricultural areas. This is a win for farmers, creators, and consumers alike.

The County already has a growing industry of wineries and breweries, thanks to visionary entrepreneurs and a commitment from County government that has resulted in reduced regulatory barriers and increased incentives.

Serious challenges, however, existed in our zoning code for entrepreneurs trying to start and grow a business in our rural and agricultural areas. Tackling these challenges head on, the zoning measure passed this week establishes clear and reasonable zoning rules that incentivize investment and enhance the agricultural heritage of the County.

The core of the ordinance is to allow these businesses as accessory to a farm operation. In other words, the primary use of the land or property must be agricultural. The measure also set prudent and balanced requirements for events and local ingredients. For all the details, read the staff report.

There are many reasons to support this industry:

  1. Making beer, wine, cider, and spirits has historically been agricultural activity— farmers brought not only grain or produce but also beer or whiskey to market.
  2. Increasing demand for local ingredients from our craft alcohol producers opens new opportunities for Montgomery County farmers. There is potential for hundreds–or even thousands–of acres of grains, hops, and fruit being grown in the County for our local craft alcohol producers.
  3. Allowing this use is helping a new generation to return and thrive as business owners in our agricultural reserve. You can see the creativity and energy these young cultivators and creators are bringing to the job. Having this opportunity makes farming more viable which will reduce pressures to sell for residential development or sell to corporate farming conglomerations.
  4. These businesses enhance the quality of life of our residents and make Montgomery County a better place to live. Have you spent a Saturday afternoon at one of our farm breweries or wineries? It is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Farm Alcohol Production in the County

Checking out the scenery, soil, and production facilities of Montgomery County wineries

I want to thank Councilmember Craig Rice for co-leading this effort with me as well as all my colleagues for their support. Most of all, I want to thank all the stakeholders and community members for their advocacy and inspiration. There is no doubt that the ordinance I introduced last spring improved considerably as we learned more and incorporated good ideas from all sides.

Here’s to a prosperous, vibrant, and sustainable agricultural reserve!

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Local Food Initiatives

I want Montgomery County to be a place where we grow more of our food locally. I believe in the power of the local food movement to raise consciousness about health and environmental issues.

Urban farming: backyard chickens and bees
Many residents of Montgomery County have contacted me to express their desire to raise chickens and bees in their backyard as a food source and/or hobby, among other reasons. Like with any pet, if the owner is responsible, then these practices are perfectly compatible with our neighborhood quality of life. I know because my neighbors have both chickens and bees, which are a delight for my children.

However, some zoning regulations have made it overly onerous to raise backyard chickens and bees in many of the County’s suburban and urban areas. This is why I worked with local urban farming advocates, including activists from www.montgomerycountybackyardchickens.org to protect their ability to raise chickens and bees during the council’s process of making changes to the zoning code.

Preserving our farm-land Ag Reserve for future generations
About 40% of our county’s land has been protected from development by reserving it for farming through the creation of the Agricultural Reserve. It is one of our county’s great resources, and I oppose development there. I also worked hard to allow our farmers to create educational uses on their farms, to help make farming an experience that more of our residents can share.

Putting healthy (and local) food in our schools
As a parent of two young boys, one of whom just began kindergarten, making sure that healthy food is served by MCPS is a priority for me. That is why I am supporting Real Food for Kids Montgomery (a project of the Chesapeake Institute for Local Sustainable Food and Agriculture) to promote greater wellness in our schools. I sent a letter of support for these goals to Dr. Joshua Starr, the superintendent of MCPS, earlier in 2013. You may read more about this important effort here.

These are some of the initiatives I have focused on to strengthen the cause of local food in Montgomery County. I welcome hearing from you about these issues, and I am here to work with you in the future.