House, Senate Legislators Lay Groundwork for Urban Agriculture

By Teaganne Finn

Urban agriculture proponents are hoping two 2016 bills will be reintroduced this year, just in time to be added to the 2018 Farm Bill.

The bills have very different initiatives but similar goals, with hopes to create economic opportunity and show support for farmers and ranchers in urban areas. The separate bills were introduced in 2016 by Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio).

Stabenow introduced the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016 in September of last year outlining a plan to establish an Office of Urban Agriculture within the Department of Agriculture and make urban agriculture activities eligible for funding from USDA programs. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.

The bill included plans to invest $10 million in cutting-edge research to explore market opportunities and $5 million for tools and equipment to develop community gardens that would provide community-based nutrition education.

“Things have not changed on the ground much since Senator Stabenow held her press conference,” Joan Nelson, executive director of Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing, Mich., told Bloomberg BNA, “The number of farmers raising crops in our city is gradually and steadily increasing.”

Stabenow’s bill would directly affect community development agencies like Allen Neighborhood Center located on the Eastside of Lansing, where its first urban farm was established eight years ago. They now have approximately nine self-described urban farmers and 26 farmers markets in the Lansing area.

“The support that would have been available by Stabenow is still necessary and important to people in this region,” said Nelson who believes small urban farmers are in need of a lot of initial support especially related to business development.

Stabenow’s office has not announced a plan to reintroduce the bill.

Growing Need, Growing Support

Wes King, policy specialist at National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Bloomberg BNA he would support Stabenow’s bill if she reintroduced it.

“The need is definitely something that still exists and is continuing to grow,” said King, who said he thinks one of the great things about Stabenow’s bill is the “increased awareness about the realities of farming and helping to connect urban and rural communities.”

National Farmers Union President, Roger Johnson told Bloomberg BNA that the challenges for urban farmers are in acceptability but it’s becoming less and less a challenge.

Johnson endorsed Stabenow’s bill in 2016 and said he would support the bill if it is reintroduced, saying it would provide “real economic opportunities.”

Funding for Urban Farmers

Kaptur introduced the Urban Agriculture Production Act of 2016 in December, to establish an outreach program to award grants to support urban farm outreach activities, which greatly differs from Stabenow’s legislation.

The bill was referred to the House Agriculture Committee.

The legislation would amend the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 and expand the purpose and duties of the USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach to include activities just for urban farmers or ranchers. The grants would provide a range of support from infrastructure and land acquisition to education, training, and technical assistance.

Joshua Stewart, communications director for Kaptur, told Bloomberg BNA, in a phone call that Kaptur is planning to reintroduce the bill and drop it in September.

“We are currently finalizing language and seeking original co-sponsors,” said Stewart.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bgov.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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