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Associated Press, Published September 28 2013

Minnesota urban farm sows unhappiness

NEW BRIGHTON, Minn. – From the front, nothing about the house in suburban New Brighton appears that different.

A car sits in the driveway near a flower bed of towering magenta amaranth plants. A small pirate flag waves from atop a picnic table, a nod to the “Peter Pan”-inspired name the women who live here gave the half-acre property when they moved in seven years ago.

Behind the one-story house, however, is a different scene.

There, you see sprawling vegetable gardens, berry plants, bee hives and lots of fowl. A large coop extends from the back deck and houses about 15 laying hens, a dozen quail, a few heritage turkeys, a couple of ducks and one Serama rooster. A basket brimming with vegetables sits on a table near a garden bed. Next to it is a bowl full of multicolored eggs.

The collection represents a day’s harvest at “Lost Boys Acre,” an experimental urban farm operated by four women in the quiet residential neighborhood near Silver Lake Road and Interstate 694.

What you don’t see is the tension with their next-door neighbors, a couple in their 70s who have lived in their house for nearly 30 years, allegations of dishonesty and bullying traded between the two households.

The dispute has spilled into New Brighton City Hall with complaints issued to staff and police. Kristie Kellis, 38, the registered owner of the house at 715 Forest Dale Road, said she has contacted the Minnesota Department of Human Rights as well. State officials, however, cannot confirm active complaints.

Next-door neighbors Bob and Gerry Parrott say the women’s farming is out of control and highly disruptive.

Kellis says the Parrotts are unreasonable and that her property is well maintained. Furthermore, she says it’s within her legal rights as a New Brighton resident to operate an urban farm.

Although New Brighton has a nuisance ordinance, the city has no specific rules regulating the keeping and raising of fowl or other practices associated with farming within its city limits.

Some 60 residents are said to be engaged in the practice to varying degrees.

Prompted by the conflict – now in its second year – the city recently assembled a task force to study how other communities have tackled urban farming, an increasingly popular practice in Minnesota and elsewhere. The committee is expected to make recommendations to the city council next spring.

“We are not looking for this thing to spread,” New Brighton Mayor Dave Jacobsen said of the Forest Dale Road conflict. “We hope the task force can clarify what is reasonable for urban farming before this issue turns our city into a battleground.”

To Kellis, the Parrotts’ beef with her and her housemates goes deeper. She suspects the couple’s real issue is their non-nuclear family and religious beliefs.

Two of the women practice paganism. Kellis says she follows “Earth-based spirituality.”

Kellis points to a time when Gerry Parrott called police claiming a garden statue on the Lost Boys Acre property was an attempt by the women to “point demons at her,” Kellis said.

“They won’t give us one specific thing we can do differently. ... I can negotiate with a specific problem, but they won’t give me one,” Kellis said. “They just hate us.”