urban agriculture, indoor farming, building codes, food security, sustainability, International Building code, IBC

Document Type



Urban agricultural production has grown to be a critical tool in the battles for food security and sustainability. A common regulatory barrier to urban agricultural operations big and small has been ambiguity in land-use laws. Local governments are increasingly friendly toward community gardens, small greenhouse farming operations, farmers markets, and the like. Many have sought to lift regulatory restrictions and provide clarity in the law. However, while these efforts benefit a multitude of local food production efforts, they do little to address the regulatory ambiguities faced by commercial-scale, indoor farming operations, especially vertical farms. Particularly concerning to indoor vertical farms are the ambiguities implicit in the International Building Code (“IBC”), which serves as the model building code for virtually every American municipality. Currently, the IBC lacks any provisions contemplating buildings purposed for large-scale indoor crop production. While some state governments have traditionally exempted agricultural buildings from this type of regulation, this is neither a safe nor feasible solution for indoor farming operations. This article seeks to provide alternative solutions. First, in the short term, local governments should provide clear statutory guidance concerning where indoor farming operations fit into the IBC scheme. Second, as a more sustainable solution, the International Code Council, should update the IBC to account for commercial-scale indoor farming operations by including such operations under a particular occupancy group.