WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2016 - Some of the first proposals for the next farm bill aren’t aimed at traditional agriculture but instead support those who are growing food on downtown rooftops, inside old warehouses and on strips of land in some of the nation’s most urbanized areas. The proposals pose a challenge for farm bill writers, who are already trying to meet demands for more aid from dairy producers, cotton growers and others.
But supporters of urban agriculture, whose practitioners are often much younger than conventional farmers, say the proposals also offer an opportunity to expand the political base of support for the next farm bill in Congress beyond conventional farm groups and anti-hunger organizations.
“It’s understood that urban agriculture is not going to feed the world, but it’s a major step forward in connecting people with food and agriculture writ large,” said Deborah Atwood, executive director of AGree, a think tank that co-sponsored a recent day-long symposium on urban agriculture at The George Washington University.
“Why not find a way to build those connections and bring in the people that care so much, the energy that we’re seeing in the urban, local and regional space to be part of this larger call for action around food and agriculture policy in 2018?”
The big question is where the money is going to come from. “We’re not here to displace rural farmers. We’re here about getting a piece of the pie,” Karen Washington, co-founder of Black Urban Growers of New York, said at the GWU symposium. Malik Yakini, co-founder of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, said that the money for urban agriculture shouldn’t come out of either nutrition spending or “at the expense of rural farmers.”
Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, has introduced a bill, the , that would mandate $46 million in spending and authorize an additional $40 million to expand Agriculture Department assistance to urban farming.
Among other things, the bill would improve the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) for urban farmers by requiring USDA to use contract or local prices rather than national commodity prices in calculating NAP coverage. The bill also would mandate $5 million in spending on community gardens and $10 million for research.
“This bill is not designed to take away resources from other farmers but rather to recognize a new and growing area of agriculture and to encourage stronger connections across all sectors of agriculture and our food system,” Stabenow said.
Ohio Democrat Marcy Kaptur, a member of the House Appropriations Committee’s ag subcommittee, will soon introduce a separate measure that will propose $500 million in spending for local food system development, marketing networks, and research and education programs.
Stabenow doesn’t have a funding source yet for her bill, but urban agriculture is attracting bipartisan interest, said Katie Naessens, a Senate Agriculture Committee aide. There is “growing recognition in the agricultural community that this is something to care about,” Naessens said. “I think folks across the aisle are very excited about this as well.”
USDA has been waiting for the next farm bill to take some steps to help urban farmers, including promoting the availability of farm loans and other assistance. The Farm Service Agency recently posted a job opening for its first urban outreach coordinator. The job will be based in Brooklyn.
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