The federal farm bill isn't due to expire until 2018, but efforts to shape that legislation are already heating up on Capitol Hill.
The top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), has introduced a new bill to significantly boost urban farming. While the legislation will not become law in the few work weeks remaining in this session of Congress, Stabenow intends for the bill to get conversations started among lawmakers about raising the profile of urban agriculture in the next farm bill.
The legislation — the Urban Agriculture Act (S. 3420) — would both increase resources for urban farmers and add new flexibility to a range of existing U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to better address the needs of urban agriculture. Her leadership on the issue comes as no surprise given that many Michigan cities are leading the way in urban agriculture and see it as a tool to improve access to healthy, local food options for city residents.
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan appeared with Stabenow at a press conference. He said that "urban agriculture is going to be part of Detroit's economy for years to come" and praised the legislation aimed at supporting these local efforts.
The legislation would:
- Establish an urban agriculture office at USDA
- Expand USDA loan and insurance programs to cover urban farmers
- Authorize $10 million for new urban agriculture research
- Provide $5 million for community gardens
- Create a healthy food pilot program to encourage sustainable growing practices and connect urban farms to local institutions
- Support urban soil remediation and composting
- Expand USDA's authority to support urban farm cooperatives
"Urban agriculture is steadily growing in cities and towns across Michigan and across our country, creating new economic opportunities and safer, healthier environments," said Stabenow on the bill's introduction.
The bill is an opening act in the debate over how federal agriculture policy can add momentum to urban farming in the U.S.
About the Author
Jason Jordan is APA's director of policy.
Top image: Sen. Debbie Stabenow visited the Lafayette Greens Community Urban Garden in Detroit to discuss the importance of local agriculture with garden manager Gwen Meyer. Photo courtesy Sen. Stabenow.