Aerial view of Raleigh City Farm

Urban Farms

Urban agriculture is an umbrella term that describes a range of food-growing practices, from backyard gardens and community gardens, to sometimes larger and more intensive urban farms. Urban farms may comprise commercial enterprises (also called “market gardens” or nonprofit endeavors that grow produce on a more intensive scale for sale or distribution. 

Urban agriculture encompasses a host of benefits for cities, including increased access to healthy, locally grown food sources, preserving green spaces that help absorb rainfall and reduce the heat island effect, and providing community connections that bring people closer to nature and the soil.


An urban farm may be referred to as the production of food-producing or ornamental plants and crops, bees, fish, poultry, or small to medium-sized farm animals for commercial purposes using a variety of horizontal and vertical growing techniques including in-soil, container, hydroponic, and aquaponic growing systems. End products are typically sold on- or off-site at a stand, market, or store. An urban farm may be owned by an individual, group or organization and may include intensive agriculture, typical large-scale farm equipment, and animal husbandry. (The City of Raleigh Unified Development Ordinance defines urban farms in Section 6.3.1.)

Approval Urban farms on private land in the appropriate zoning districts are allowed. See Zoning below.
Size The size of urban farms is governed by the underlying zoning district. See Unified Development Ordinance, Article 3.2 – Base Dimensional Standards.

Urban farms are allowed as a Special Use in all Mixed-Use zoning districts, which indicates that the Urban Farm use requires approval of the Board of Adjustment before it is allowed in that district.  Details are listed in the Unified Development Ordinance, Section 6.1.4 (Allowed Principal Use Table) and 6.6.1.E. (Urban Farm). A site's zoning may be checked on the City-wide Zoning Map (iMaps interactive mapping program).

On-site Sales On-site sales on Urban Farms are allowed in the NX-, CX-, DX-, and IX- zoning districts, subject to the findings of the special use permit.  For example, retail uses (Section 6.4.1) may be limited to certain categories or be subject to other standards in order to mitigate potential adverse impacts to adjoining properties (i.e., limiting hours of operation, etc).
Approval Process for On-site Sales The Special Use Permit process and requirements are provided in Section 10.2.9.
Accessory Structures

Detached accessory structures, such as storage or utility buildings, gazebos, trellises, or accessory greenhouse structures, are allowed, subject to issuance of a building and/or zoning permit. During the permit application review process, compliance with the requirements of the zoning district and the North Carolina Building Code will be evaluated. Structures and/or site uses related to creating a community garden must meet applicable standards of the City code (e.g., shed size/placement, site maintenance, etc). 

All necessary building/zoning permits must be obtained prior to construction. Contact Planning and Development for more information on required permits, fees and site plan regulations.  

  • greenhouse shall mean a temporary or permanent structure typically made of, but not limited to, glass, plastic, or fiberglass in which plants are cultivated.
  • hoophouse shall mean a temporary or permanent structure typically made of, but not limited to, piping or other material covered with translucent plastic, constructed in a “half-round” or “hoop” shape, for the purposes of growing plants. 
  • A cold frame shall mean an unheated outdoor structure consisting of a wooden or concrete frame and a top of glass or clear plastic, used for protecting seedlings and plants from the cold.   

For more information reference UDO Article 6.7

Animals The raising of animals on Urban Farms is subject to certain conditions (see Section 6.6.1.B.2.h). For example, hoofed animals are prohibited. Chickens are allowed at rate of 1 chicken per 1,000 square feet of lot area not to exceed 10 chickens on any single lot. No roosters are allowed. Housing for chickens must be able to be placed at least 25 feet from property lines.
Beehives A maximum of 2 beehives are permitted on Urban Farms. Beehives must be located at least 25 feet from any property lines.
Other Items to Consider

Soil: Consider having your soil tested. Contact Wake County Cooperative Extension about having a soil test run. You should also consider whether the soil may be contaminated.

Sun: Ensure that the site is not shaded by nearby buildings or trees. An open south-facing space is best because vegetables need at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. Shade in a small area can be beneficial for creating a shade garden and a comfortable seating area.

Access: Urban Farms permitted within mixed-use districts may be subject to the frontage requirements of Article 3.4 to ensure that that it is accessible to the street and sidewalk.

Slope: Slope is an extra challenge and may make it difficult for people with mobility challenges. Flat lots are usually preferable. Terracing can also be used to create flat plots.

Water:  Verify that there is access to piped water at the site. Wise water management is a basic tenet of community gardening. It can be expensive to install a water line and water meter.

You may wish to consider applying to help manage and re-use stormwater through the Raleigh Rainwater Rewards Program. Rainwater captured through rain barrels or cisterns, for example, can be a great way to reduce the excess runoff from your property as well as provide a source of water for beneficial landscaping.



Cindy Holmes

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