CONGRESSIONAL URBAN AGRICULTURE PRODUCTION ACT COULD HELP ELIMINATE URBAN FOOD DESERTS AND STRENGTHEN URBAN AG
To date, little has been done at the federal level to help bolster urban agriculture in cities across the US. But with agriculture currently on the agenda as the next Farm Bill reauthorization quickly approaches, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09) introduced the Urban Agriculture Production Act in September. This bipartisan bill aims to support nutritional and farmers’ market programs and help create the next generation of local, urban farmers and food producers.
Kaptur was joined by 11 original cosponsors: Rep. John Conyers (MI-13), Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-13), Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (DC-AL), Rep. Gwen Moore (WI-04), Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Rep. Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Rep. Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Rep. Tim Ryan (OH-13), Rep. Dwight Evans (PA-02), Rep. Alma Adams (NC-12) and Rep. Don Young (AK-AL). The bill is supported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Farmers Market Coalition.
Congresswoman Kaptur sat down with Urban Ag News to talk about the Urban Agriculture Production Act and the impact it could have on growers, local food retailers and urban communities.
UAN: What are the goals of the Urban Agriculture Production Act and why did you introduce the bill at this time?
Kaptur: The Urban Agriculture Production Act can serve as a marker for the next Farm Bill reauthorization. My key goals are to support small farmers and producers, work to eliminate food deserts and promote local agriculture in our nation’s metropolitan areas.
Across America, too many of our urban neighborhoods are absent of stores where community members can purchase fresh, healthy foods. There are more than 23 million individuals residing in these so-called “food desert” neighborhoods, where there are no stores within one mile in which they can buy healthy food. Without healthy options, people are forced to eat unhealthy, processed, junk food, because that is all that is available and affordable. This bill is a step to correct this unacceptable trend.
UAN: The term “urban agriculture” includes urban farms, hoop houses, aqua-culture, hydroponic and aquaponics facilities and rooftop, vertical and indoor farms. Would this also include new or existing commercial greenhouse growers who may be looking to set up production facilities in urban areas?
Kaptur: Certainly. But it is important to also note that new approaches to greenhouse growing should be re-imagined in order to manage energy and water systems through more efficient and renewable means. In urban communities like those I represent, resources are available and are waiting to be utilized. Vacant and blighted properties can be repurposed into productive sites with the installation of energy- and water-efficient commercial greenhouses. Waste heat from manufacturing operations can also be rechanneled to allow for an entirely new class of four-season growing.
Embracing such opportunities can empower new people through agriculture. Residents in urban areas could benefit from not only the jobs created, but also from the unique skills gained in food production and distribution processing.
UAN: How is the production of the food and its sales going to be coordinated? In other words, how are growers going to know that they have markets ready to handle their produce even before they grow the crops and retailers are going to be sure they have an adequate amount of produce to sell?
Kaptur: That is up to the growers, but ideally, we will have at least some venues, think farmers’ markets that are also empowered by the investments we’re making in this bill. From there, growers and producers can get a foot in the door to compete and succeed.
UAN: The Act directs the Secretary of Agriculture to establish an urban agriculture outreach program. Part of this program enables the Secretary to award grants. Would growers be eligible for these grants and what type of production and marketing activities/projects could these funds be used to finance?
Kaptur: That is one of the most exciting pieces of the legislation. Growers would be eligible for these grants. And the grants are for the following types of activities in urban or in and around urban areas:
- Infrastructure, land acquisition and land conversation.
- Education and training to enhance agricultural production.
- The aggregation of farmer products and supplies for purposes of transportation to market.
- Other activities that support urban agricultural production as determined by the Secretary of Agriclture.
UAN: Where would the money come from to operate the urban agriculture outreach program and who would oversee it?
Kaptur: Our bill authorizes Congress to allocate $50 million each year to the Department of Agriculture for the urban agriculture outreach program. It also creates an Urban Agricultural Liaison who would administer the program.
UAN: How much money will be available to initiate the urban agriculture outreach program and for how long would this funding be available? Does this amount of funding change from year to year and does it have to be appropriated annually?
Kaptur: $50 million is the amount authorized in our bill, starting in 2018 and each fiscal year thereafter. This authorizing amount does not change from year to year. We hope this money will eventually inspire other investment from businesses, nonprofits, churches and even local and state governments.
In my hometown of Toledo, for example, a local restaurant, Balance Pan-Asian Grille, is building an urban indoor aquaponics farm next door to their new location to grow the food that will be served every day. It is very exciting and ideally, our bill would help create more opportunities and the expertise for this to happen a lot more across the country.
UAN: Who will decide as to which production and marketing projects receive funding?
Kaptur: The Secretary of Agriculture will determine how the production and marketing funding is awarded based on the criteria set out the bill.
UAN: Some of these projects are eligible for grants and others are eligible for loans. Who will make the decision as to which projects receive which type of funding?
Kaptur: The Secretary of Agriculture, either as acting through the Administrator of the Farm Service Agency or any other USDA agent who he deems appropriate, will make the determination.
UAN: With the mentality of the current administration and some legislators in Washington to cut spending, what do you think are the chances of this bill passing even though it has received bipartisan support?
Kaptur: That is why we are focused on incorporating as much of our urban agriculture bill into the upcoming Farm Bill. Though it won’t be easy, this legislation is a must-pass bill, and historically has always crossed the finish line.
UAN: Will the Urban Agriculture Production Act have any connection with the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill? If so, would funding the urban agriculture outreach program and its projects have any impact on funding other programs in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill?
Kaptur: Well, we hope so. And I am confident that other Members of Congress from both rural and urban areas alike will see the value in spurring innovation and investing in our urban agriculture infrastructure.
Be sure to write or call your Senators and Congressional Representative to let them know that you support this legislation too!