HOME GR/OWN Milwaukee
Frequently Asked Questions

We want to help make re-purposing vacant lots and increasing access to local, healthy food as simple as possible. Click on the categories below to view a list of frequently asked questions--with answers! Still have questions? Contact HOME GR/OWN via e-mail or call 414-286-3748.

I’m new to gardening. Where can I get gardening advice?

There are several great organizations that can help you learn about gardening.

  • Alice's Garden (414) 687-0122
  • Groundwork Milwaukee (414) 763-9947
  • Growing Power (414) 527-1546
  • Milwaukee County UW Extension (414) 256-4664
  • The Urban Ecology Center (414) 964-8505
  • Victory Garden Initiative (414) 431-0888
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What is considered a community garden?

A community garden is "any use of land or a premises for the growing of crops, plants or other vegetation by a group of individuals or by a public or non-profit organization. This use includes composting and the raising of crops, native vegetation or fruit not otherwise in violation of this code. It also includes the sale of produce and ornamental crops grown on-site. This use does not include a commercial farming enterprise or outdoor storage facilities."

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Do I need a community garden permit?

Yes. You are required to apply for a no-cost permit from the City of Milwaukee Development Center. You can access the permit application HERE.

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Can one individual operate a community garden?

No. An individual wanting to grow food for profit would apply for Commercial Farming Enterprise approval. A community garden is designed for successful neighborhood involvement and support. A community garden is for a community group or multiple individuals.

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How do I get a community garden permit?

The permit is available HERE. Fill out the permit application, and either mail or bring to the City of Milwaukee Development Center.

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I want to start a community garden on City-owned land. What is the process?
  1. Complete a Community Garden permit application found HERE. If you need help completing the application, contact Tim McCollow.
  2. Email, mail or drop off the application with Yves LaPierre, Department of City Development (DCD), Real Estate; 809 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202.
  3. City staff will forward the application to the alderperson representing the district where the garden is located. NOTE: We recommend you contact the alderperson prior to submitting an application to make them aware of your project. Find your alderperson here.
  4. The alderperson has 10 days from receiving the application to inform City staff whether the garden should be denied, based on criteria outlined in city ordinance.
  5. Once the permit is approved, you will be contacted by City staaff to complete any remaining paperwork. A seasonal garden license will be issued to your group by Yves LaPierre of DCD.
  6. If the permit is denied, Yves will contact you to inform you of permit denial. We suggest working with your alderperson to then refine your project to remove the obstacles to your alderperson’s approval of your application and resubmit your application.
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I would like to start a community garden on privately owned land. What is the process?
  1. Complete a New Community Garden permit application found HERE. If you need help completing the application, contact Tim McCollow, 414-286-3748 or tmccol@milwaukee.gov.
  2. Mail or drop off the application at the City of Milwaukee Development Center: 809 N. Broadway, Milwaukee, WI 53202.
  3. City staff will forward the application to the alderperson representing the district where the garden is located. We recommend you contact the alderperson prior to submitting an application to make them aware of your project. Find your alderperson here.
  4. The alderperson will have 10 days from receiving the application to inform City staff whether the garden should be denied, based on criteria outlined in the city ordinance.
  5. If the permit is approved, you will be issued the permit.
  6. 6. If the permit is denied, City staff will contact you to inform you of permit denial. We suggest working with your alderperson to then refine your project to remove the obstacles to your alderperson’s approval of your application and resubmit your application.
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What are my options for getting water to my vacant lot?

Low Cost Options:

  • Obtaining a Hydrant Permit through Groundwork Milwaukee to utilize the fire hydrant closest to your vacant lot.
  • Rainwater harvesting techniques, contact ReFlo for more information.
  • Sometimes making an arrangement with the neighbor adjacent to your vacant lot to utilize their water hose is feasible.

Higher Cost Option:

  • Have a water tap installed on the vacant lot, which can cost up to $10,000+
  • Contact City of Milwaukee at (414) 286-8211 for more information.
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Can I sell vegetables, fruit, or ornamental plants that have grown on-site at our community garden?

Yes. You can sell products on-site that have been grown at that same location. If you would like to sell at Farmers Markets or in other locations, see the Food Sales FAQ for help.

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Is there a cost for a community garden permit?

No.

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Can a community garden permit be revoked during the growing season?

Yes. If there have been multiple code violations reported to the City's Department of Neighborhood Services, the City has the authority to revoke the community garden permit. Examples of code violations that could lead to revoking a community garden permit include:

  • Cars parked on the vacant lot space
  • After-sunset parties held on the site
  • Vermin complaints from compost piles
  • Not keeping the grass cut
  • Not cleaning up the property by December 1
  • A community garden started but not finished
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What if I already have a community garden, am I required to get a permit?

All community gardens in existence as of June 1, 2014 are not required to get a permit for this growing season. A permit will be required for the 2015 growing season.

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Can I own a commercial farm in Milwaukee?

Yes. Your company would be considered a "Commercial Farming Enterprise." This category covers privately owned urban farms.

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What is the definition of a Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE)?

A Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE) is defined as a site where "the premise is used to grow and harvest plants or compost for sale to the general public, retail business or wholesale establishments. This use does not include community gardens or outdoor storage facilities."

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What is the process for starting a Commercial Farming Enterprise (CFE)?
  1. We suggest that all CFEs be developed in consultation with the alderperson of the district where the farm will be located. Find the alderperson here.
  2. All CFEs will require a Certificate of Occupancy. The City Development Center (841 N. Broadway, 1st floor) will help you complete the Certificate of Occupancy application. They can be reached at 414-286-8210. There is a $25 processing fee for a CFE Certificate of Occupancy, regardless of the number of lots.
  3. A CFE in an industrial or institutional zoned district is allowed as a permitted use.
  4. A CFE in a residential or commercially zoned district will require approval of a special use permit by the Board of Zoning Appeals (BOZA) approval. CFEs are a special use in these zoning districts. (A CFE that requires a special use permit will require an approved Site Plan).
  5. You can apply for a temporary Certificate of Occupancy for a site, which allows you to operate while waiting for the BOZA hearing. The processing fee for a temporary certificate is an additional $150.
  6. BOZA generally meets monthly and there are deadlines for submitting applications. A BOZA application requires a processing fee of $300 per lot under current rules. For a multi-lot, contiguous CFE site, it is possible that BOZA may reduce the per lot processing fee.
  7. If your CFE is required to receive BOZA review, BOZA will review your site plan and other information and issue the final approval/disapproval for the CFE. Upon BOZA approval, the City Development Center will issue a permanent Certificate of Occupancy.
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What can be grown or raised on a CFE property?

Food and non-edible plants. Examples of non-edible plants: trees, bushes, perennial plants, flowers. The new rules also allow composting to be a primary use on a CFE. The new CFE rules do not expand livestock production beyond existing rules for chickens, bees and aquaculture, which are allowed at a CFE with the correct permits. A CFE requires a Certificate of Occupancy.

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Can I raise chickens and bees as a Commercial Farming Enterprise?

Yes, chickens and bees raised on a CFE are regulated under the same rules as residential chicken and bee permits. The application and more information on Milwaukee’s chicken ordinance can be found HERE. Information on Milwaukee's bee ordinance and permit application can be found HERE.

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Can CFEs be located anywhere in the City?

No. Like other types of businesses, the City allows certain commercial activities in certain zoning areas. The City has six main types of zoning districts: Residential, Commercial, Downtown, Industrial, Parks, and Institutional. CFEs are allowed without a special use permit in Industrial and Institutional zoning districts. CFEs are not allowed in the Downtown zoning area. In all other zoning districts, a CFE requires a special use permit from Board of Zoning Appeals, or BOZA.

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Why is BOZA approval required for CFEs in residential and commercial zoning districts?

Because of the wide variety of commercial urban farms, and the potential for negative neighborhood impact, the City requires BOZA overview of the site plan and operations of the proposed urban farm in certain zoning districts. 

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Can we compost at a community garden or commercial farming enterprise?

Yes, but the size and placement of compost bins is restricted under current regulations. Compost bins must be no taller than 5 feet, covered and they cannot exceed 125 cubic feet. Click HERE for the City ordinance, Sec. 79-12.5.

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Is a shed or accessory structure allowed at a community garden or CFE?

Yes. City legislation now allows for accessory structures in the following circumstances: "No accessory building shall be located on a lot not containing a principal building, unless the principal use of the lot is for the raising of livestock , a community garden or a commercial farming enterprise. If a principal building or use on a lot is removed, any accessory building on the lot shall also be removed within 60 days and the premises made compliant with this code."

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What are the different types of accessory structures allowed on a community garden or CFE?

Accessory structures allowed include large agricultural building, hoop house, shed, and rain catchment systems.

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What accessory structures to community gardens or CFE require building permits?
  • Shed: No permit needed if it fits the criteria provided by City Development Center.
  • Pergola: Yes, permit is needed. Fee will be determined by cost of structure.
  • Rain catchment system: Maybe. If larger, or a unique design, the permit and design review will be required.
  • Hoop House: Yes, but no fee.
  • Farm stand (not mobile): Maybe.
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What is a large agricultural structure?

A large agricultural structure is an accessory structure that does not fit the definition of a hoop house and that is greater than 150 square feet in area. This term may include a rain catchment system.

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Does a large agricultural structure require a building permit?

Yes.

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What is a shed?

A shed is defined in the City zoning code as an accessory building of not more than 150 square feet in floor area and not more than 14 feet in maximum height. If the structure meets the criteria of a shed, it does not need a building permit. For details on criteria for sheds click HERE

The City has sheds found in City Ordinances Sec. 295-201-544. The new rules simply permit for the first time having sheds on vacant lots, when there is a community garden. This will provide community gardens and urban farms the ability to safely store equipment and materials on-site. Note: A shed that uses the roof for rainwater harvesting is still considered a shed.

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Does a shed require a building permit?

No, unless it is greater than 150 square feet or less than 3 feet from a property line. "No permit shall be required for: detached accessory structures used as tool or storage sheds or similar uses, provided the floor areas do not exceed 150 square feet and the structures are not accessory to Group F or H occupancies and are at least 3 feet from the property lines." Link: 200-24.

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What type of shed can I have on a City-owned lot?

On licensed City-owned lots, the City does not allow in-the-ground concrete for the base or foundation of a shed or large agricultural structure. So on City-owned lots, alternate hard surfaces include 2 inches of macadam laid on 3 inches of gravel, or patio block laid on 3 inches of gravel.

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How many sheds can I have on a community garden property?

Since a shed is considered an accessory building, no more than 2 sheds are allowed at a community garden.

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What is a hoop house?

A hoop house is defined as "a temporary or permanent structure typically constructed with, but not limited to, piping or other material covered with translucent material for the purpose of growing food or ornamental crops, but not for storage of inorganic materials. A hoop house is considered more temporary than a greenhouse."

A greenhouse (structure with glass or non-flexible plastic walls) is NOT considered a hoop house. City greenhouse rules are found here.

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Does a hoop house require a building permit?

Hoop houses do require a permit. However, there is no fee. Agricultural buildings like hoop houses are exempt from the Wisconsin Commercial Building Code per SPS s. 361.02(3)(e), however the structures are checked to ensure they meet all zoning regulations.

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Are the height limits for a hoop house?

A hoop house may be no taller than 14 feet at its highest point. The maximum sidewall height is also 14 feet.

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How many accessory structures can I have on a community garden or on a commercial farming enterprise?
  1. There can be no more than 1 shed and 1 large agricultural structure located on single lot. Total lot coverage of two cannot exceed 15% of lot area.
  2. There is no limit on number of hoop houses on a single lot, however
  3. The total lot cover with all structures (total of all sheds, structures and hoop houses) may not exceed 70% of lot area.
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Do all structures on a community garden site count toward the 70% rule?

Yes.

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Is a rain barrel considered an accessory structure?

No. A rain barrel means "an above-ground prefabricated storage receptacle with an automatic overflow diversion system that collects and stores storm water runoff from the roof of a structure that would have been otherwise routed into a storm drain. Rain barrel requirements: shall be securely covered, include an inlet screen, have an overflow discharge device sized to adequately convey overflow to the point of discharge and have a convenient and functional means of water withdrawal." Link: Sec 225-4-2.5

 

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Is there a limit to the number of rain barrels I can have on any type of lot?

No. There are no current rules limiting the number of rain barrels on any property.

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What is a rainwater catchment system?

A rainwater catchment system is any type of design to capture rainwater on-site. The system must meet the standards for an accessory structure. If it does not, you will need to work with the City's Development Center to review the proposal and determine if it would need to be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

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Does a rainwater catchment system require a permit?

If it is less than 150 square feet and based on a shed-like design, it does not require a permit. Cisterns or water storage tanks are not rain barrels, and may require a building permit and plumbing permit. A plumbing permit is required for all underground storage tanks and any piping systems that would be buried and/or has a pump. Contact Plumbing Plan Review for more information at (414) 286-3116.

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What are options for getting water to my community garden?

Low Cost Options:

  • Obtaining a Hydrant Permit through Groundwork Milwaukee to utilize the fire hydrant closest to your vacant lot.
  • Rainwater harvesting techniques, contact ReFlo for more information.
  • Sometimes making an arrangement with the neighbor adjacent to your vacant lot to utilize their water hose is feasible.

Higher Cost Option:

  • Have a water tap installed on the vacant lot, which can cost up to $10,000+
  • Contact City of Milwaukee at (414) 286-8211 for more information.
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What is a setback for an accessory structure?

A setback refers to the minimum distance of a structure from the property line of the property, as allowed by Milwaukee codes. These minimum distances are required by code in order to preserve views and improve aesthetics.

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Are there size restrictions or rules on accessory buildings for community gardens or commercial farming enterprises?

Yes. In keeping with a residential neighborhood, there are restrictions on the height of an accessory structure as well as how far away from the sides of the lot it can be. As a rule of thumb, no accessory building is allowed to be taller than a garage. The exact rules are in the chart below.

 

The reference to “Avg” above is the average setback of your adjacent neighbors’ homes.

How to use the chart: A garden with accessory structures is proposed to be located on a parcel that is abutted by properties with buildings on both sides. To determine the setback of an accessory structure, measure the distance from the sidewalk to each of the buildings on adjacent properties. Then, calculate the average setback between the two buildings and add an additional 5 feet.

Example: If the left-abutting house is set back 16 feet and the right-abutting house is setback 20 feet, the average setback is 18 feet. Then add 5 feet which would allow you to place the agricultural structure no less than 23 feet back.

There are many situations where there might not be immediate abutting buildings from which to calculate an average setback, but this is covered in s295-505-2-b. For questions on a specific property, contact the City Development Center.

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Are the rules for accessory structures different if I am not on land zoned residential?

No. The setback rules and restrictions are applied to each zoning district.

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Q: How do I find out the zoning classification for a vacant lot or property online?
  1. Click HERE to access the Milwaukee Map Portal. Microsoft Silverlight is required.
  2. On the left, click on “I want to” shown in red in upper left corner. Click on “Find an address”.
  3. Enter the street address of the vacant lot (or a nearby known address) and click “Search”.





     
  4. On the left side of the screen, you will see a list of addresses, click on the correct address.










     
  5. and a box showing the address appears in the middle of the screen.











  6. Click “Zoom to Feature” and the map will take you to the address. A new pop-up box will appear with an arrow pointing to the specific lot.












     
  7. This will take you to the lot on the map. Click “View Additional Details”. Scroll down to see the zoning code designation shown in yellow below. 














If you have questions, please contact  Yves LaPierre in DCD Real Estate (414-286-5762).

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 Is raising chickens allowable in the City of Milwaukee?

 Yes! As 2011, residents are allowed to raise chickens under the following conditions:

  • A permit is required and allows residents can keep up to 4 chickens.
  • Roosters are not allowed.
  • No person shall slaughter any chickens.
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How do I apply for a permit to keep chickens?
  1. Complete a Chicken Keeping Application and Site Plan. Forms are also available from City Development Center. Review a Sample Coop Site Plan.
  2. Complete a Neighbor Approval Statement Form (DNS-363) from every neighbor required. Tip: The City strongly recommends that neighboring property owners be provided with a copy of the Milwaukee Chicken Brochure.
  3. Present both Chicken Keeping Application/Site Plan and Neighborhood Approval From, along with a check or money order in the amount of $35.49, payable to “City of Milwaukee” to the clerk at the DNS: Department of Neighborhood Services at 4001 S. 6th Street, 2nd Floor (this is a one-time fee). Applicants may apply for permits in person Monday through Friday, 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
  4. Approval by the Cityis contingent on a review for completeness and compliance with the ordinance. The approval may be made over the counter (time permitting) and the permit given to the applicant or the permit needs more time to review, may be mailed to the applicant, if approved.
  5. For additional questions or information about the permitting process, please contact Marcie Otto at 414-286-3280 or read more online.
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Will an inspection be required before receiving a permit?

No. An inspection will not be conducted by the City as part of the permitting process. The City will only inspect and determine compliance only on a complaint basis, or if it believes that a violation may be occurring.

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What are some general tips I need to keep in mind if I'm interested in raising chickens in Milwaukee?

Housing

  • Coops shall be constructed in a workmanlike manner and be moisture resistant, and either raised off the ground or placed on a hard surface such as concrete, patio or gravel.
  • Chicken coops and yards shall be constructed so they will not have standing water.
  • Chicken coops must be cleaned of hen droppings, uneaten feed, feathers, and other waste daily to ensure a health, odor or other nuisance does not exist.
  • Chicken coops and yards together shall be large enough to provide at least 16 sq feet per chicken.
  • Coops cannot be taller than 10 feet or exceed 50 sq feet.
  • Enclosures shall not be closer than 25 feet to any residential structure, and shall not be located in the front of a dwelling.

Lighting

  • In the winter months, supplemental lighting will be required in order to keep hens laying eggs. 14-16 hours of light is optimal for egg production.
  • Lighting is also important for young chicks, and 24 hours of light is needed for the first 48 hours.

Feeding

  • Chickens love Japanese beetle, and will eat other insect critters, but chickens will still need a diet of feed.
  • A 40-pound bag of generic feed from a store like Farm & Fleet will cost $7-$8 and should last four chickens about a month and half.
  • Other options are organic feed for $15-$20 or vegetarian options for $10-$12.
  • How much time will it take? Only 10-15 minutes per day to water and feed them and to remove the eggs, plus two hours about five times per year to thoroughly shovel out the coop.

How many eggs will they lay?

  • It depends on the hen’s breed, age, time of year and mood.
  • Usually for nine months a year, healthy hens will lay about one egg per day.
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What are the size limits for chicken coops?
  • Chicken coops and yards together shall be large enough to provide at least 16 square feet per chicken.
  • Fenced enclosure space can be added to the coop space to add up to the minimum number of square feet.
  • Coops cannot be taller than 10 feet. Coops cannot exceed 50 sq. ft.
  • Enclosures shall not be closer than 25 feet to any residential structure on an adjacent lot. Enclosures shall not be located in the front yard of a dwelling.
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Can I keep bees in the City of Milwaukee?

Yes. In 2010, the City of Milwaukee passed an ordinance (Chapter 78-6 Milwaukee Code of Ordinances) allowing people to keep up to two colonies of honeybees on private property within the City limits. A permit and inspection is required. Click HERE for details.

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How do I get a permit for keeping bees?

Permit applications may be obtained from the Department of Neighborhood Services Environmental Section at 414-286-3280. A simple map of the apiary and surrounding area with dimensions must be provided. Neighbors within 200 feet will be notified and given an opportunity to voice any concerns they may have. You might also be required to get written permission from your immediate neighbors, should your hives be within 50 feet of their dwellings or certain structures. Proof of beekeeping competency must be provided.

For details, read Milwaukee Bee Keeping Brochure.

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Can I sell vegetables and fruit grown on-site at our community garden?

Yes.

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Can I sell ornamental crops (flowers, perennials, shrubbery) that were grown on-site at our community garden?

Yes.

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Can I sell compost produced on-site at a community garden?

Yes.

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Can I sell on-site at a community garden processed food under Wisconsin’s pickle law?

No. Only the sale of un-bagged, whole fruits and vegetables and ornamental crops produced on-site is allowed. Sale of cut, packaged fruits and vegetables or ready-to-eat foods is prohibited.

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Is it ok to have a temporary farmstand on my block?

Yes, however, a permit is required of every person who sells food in the City of Milwaukee from a pushed, pedaled, pulled or motorized vehicle of from a carried container on the public way.

  • Food Peddler license application can be found HERE.
  • License fees are dependent upon the type of business you will conduct and the number of vehicles and must be submitted prior to the issuance of the permit.
  • Type of business fees range from $4.50-$158.00
  • Number of vehicles fees range from $86 per unit to $137 per unit
  • Additional fee of $41 for selling during the hours of 9:00p.m.-3:00a.m. on Friday and Saturday
  • License period runs from July 1 - June 30.
  • Upon the issuance of the license, each food peddler will be issued a numbered sticker specific to their cart or container, which must be prominently displayed to two sides of the vehicle or container.
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Where are the farmers markets and how do I get space?
  • Visit Farm Fresh Atlas for a complete listing of farmers markets in Southeastern Wisconsin.
  • A Temporary Event Food Dealer License is required to sell food such as raw fruits and vegetables, eggs, poultry, breads, and beverages at any of the farmers' markets in the City of Milwaukee. A license is required for each individual temporary food operation, site location or stand where food is prepared, processed, served or sold.
  • The license fee is based upon the category of food that the majority of your sales are from; for a farmer's market license, the fee is $89.
  • License period runs from July 1 through June 30.
  • File early; applications filed within 10 business days of the event will be subject to a $75 late filing fee.
  • Application may be submitted electronically to License@milwaukee.gov, in person at the City Clerk License Division (200 E. Wells St. Room 105).
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Where can I find canning classes in the Milwaukee Area?

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Who do I contact for information about food sales licenses?

Click HERE for details on City licenses.

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Contact Us

Tim McCollow, HOME GR/OWN Program Manager
(414) 286-3748
tmccol@milwaukee.gov

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