What does urban agriculture have to do with the Farm Bill?
By Kathy Beard
MOTION Coalition in Support for 2018 Revision of Agricultural Act of 2014
The growing movement towards urban farming has a champion in Senator Stabenow, but her efforts may be jeopardized soon. In 2016 she introduced the Urban Agriculture Act of 2016. The act provides assistance to urban farmers with the goal of providing fresh, healthy options to the underserved. This Act became part of the revisions by the Senate to the Agricultural Act of 2014, frequently referred to as the Farm Bill. Section 7212 of the revised Senate Farm Bill amends the 1990 version to include grants for research, education and training to enhance urban and indoor agricultural production and for evaluation of these methods. It provides $4 million dollars per year (2019-2023) and an additional $10 million each year to carry out the process. It also authorizes $14 million for a two-year census data-gathering project to collect information on urban agricultural production including community gardens and farms, rooftop farms, greenhouses and vertical farming. The House Bill does not address urban agriculture.Excluding urban farmingputs the Senate’s bi-partisan proposal addressing this issue at risk for a number of reasons.
As in the general legislature, the conference committee is dominated by Republicans (34/22), putting any chance of a democratic initiative in jeopardy of being cut from the final proposal. Second, the influence on the type of agriculture is heavily biased toward commodity cash crops, corn, wheat and soy. Texas, for example, which has the largest representation on the committee, produces primarily cattle and cotton. California, with four representatives is the largest vegetable and fruit producer. Commodity cash crops, dairy and farm animals are the primary sources of income for the remaining States represented on the committee. In most urban areas, it is still against the law to raise farm animals. The focus then, of the committee will not be on urban agriculture but on those cash producing items that bring money to the State.
Further, House Republican Chairman, Mike Conaway is a strong proponent of a improving the rural, not urban, environments and was the driving force behind the recent HOUSE review of SNAP benefits which ultimately led to the proposal to restrict SNAP benefits by “offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families” – code for tightening the work restrictions for ABAWD (Able Bodied Adults Without Dependents). It is this portion of the bill that will be the most heavily debated.
There is a sense of urgency to speed the process of completing a bill by September 30 when the 2014 version is set to expire. In cases like this, what many would consider a small matter may be sacrificed for expediency. Proponents of urban agriculture should be vigilant during this time and prepare to react to any threats to this portion of the bill. Click here to learn more about the committee hearings.
Kathy Beard is program manager, MOTION Coalition, an initiative of Authority Health