Urban Agriculture Office in new US Senate Bill: Greening Food Deserts Act

This is some encouraging news in the US, which contrary to the perceptions of most Canadians, is usually much more progressive on sustainability issues then us conservatives here in Canada.  Obviously good for urban farming as well as community gardens and peri-urban farmers. Points from the Bill (http://www.govtrack.us/congress/billtext.xpd?bill=h111-4971): To increase the emphasis on urban agricultural issues in the Department of Agriculture through the establishment of a new office to ensure that Department authorities are used to effectively encourage local agricultural production and increase the availability of fresh food in urban areas, particularly underserved communities experiencing hunger, poor nutrition, obesity, and food insecurity, and for other purposes. SEC. 2. FINDINGS AND INTENT OF CONGRESS.

(a) Findings- Congress finds the following:

(1) Dramatic economic, demographic, and land use changes in the United States have created areas where no supermarkets exist and where limited food choice, poor food quality, and lack of affordable food prices impact large segments of the country’s population.

(2) Demographic changes have opened vast pockets of arable land for agriculture in America’s urban centers.

  • Migration of people from inner city to the suburbs resulting in massive area of vacant land

(3) Diversifying United States food production from a globally consolidated and industrial food chain to one which includes local production represents an important opportunity to strengthen United States agriculture.

  • I’ll be curious to hear what the big food companies say about this

(4) With poverty rising due to chronic unemployment and with food becoming a more significant component of family budgets, local production becomes an important option for families facing food insecurity.

(5) It is estimated that 18.5 percent of American households have withheld food purchases due to economic circumstances, and many of these households reside in ethnically and racially diverse communities.

  • Will more local food actually help this problem?  Most of the urban-grown food is more expensive than typical store food.  it needs to be in order for urban farmers to make a living

(6) Food insecurity, epidemic levels of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and youth osteoporosis are caused by improper nutrition in food deserts without nutritious, reliable, and locally available healthy food options.

(7) Advances in agricultural technologies makes production possible in regions previously cordoned off from such opportunity.

(12) The majority of youth in the United States are growing up in environments with little knowledge of natural food production and nutrition and lack basic survival skills. 

  • Though urban farming is greatly about sustenance and making a living, it can also provide important educational opportunities. urban farms give school children a chance to see a real working farm without having to leave the city. This easy access reduces costs to schools and makes such field trips on a more regular basis more viable.  Children could do several trips to an urban farm during the season to watch it progress.

(15) Rising fuel costs make transporting food long distances significantly more expensive, but create opportunities for the economical production of food closer to point of consumption.

  • Locally grown food may still have significant transportation emissions associated with it.   Unless of course it is transported by bicycle!

(16) From 1997 to 2009, the value of imported food products to the United States increased over 100 percent from $43,000,000,000 to $86,700,000,000, which has led to a growing reliance on foreign-produced food, particularly during cold seasons, as diminished options exist for locally produced fresh and affordable choices.

  • May point to the need for developing more food preserving knowledge as well

(17) Expanding production and access to locally produced food strengthens the vital link between healthy populations, sustainable living, and the natural world.

  • Not necessarily
(19) Expanding access to food for vulnerable populations involves regional food production in communities where the link between daily life and the natural world has been all but eliminated.

(20) Many of the tools exist to break the cycle of food insecurity and empower communities: For example, by the end of World War II, over 20,000,000 home gardens were supplying 40 percent of domestically consumed produce.

(21) Between 1994 and 2008, the number of farmers’ markets nationwide grew 167 percent and between fiscal years 2005 and 2006, the number of farmers’ markets with electronic benefit transfer devices grew from 436 to 532.

(22) Promoting the many different forms of agriculture, both consolidated, industrial agriculture and small scale, decentralized agriculture, is beneficial to serving many different needs in a diverse society.

(23) In 2007, 247,772 farms harvested 39,259,592 acres of specialty crops and produced $67,417,397,000 worth of food products, which, if expanded to include production in food deserts across the country, has the potential to provide investment and improved nutrition to communities and reinvent urban landscapes that lack sufficient access to food.

Intent of Congress- It is the intent of Congress–

(1) to augment existing authorities to engage agricultural production, combat food insecurity, and counteract the substitution of imported products as they displace greater shares domestically produced products;

  • What will foreign exporters thinking of this?  Isn’t this much like the “Buy America” campaign that got Obama in trouble not too long ago?

(2) to pursue better coordination to empower communities to eliminate food deserts, purchase and produce food locally, create sustainable food systems, and connect better the existing programs that can and should be used to alleviate pockets of hunger and severe food insecurity;

(3) to work with the various State agencies responsible for administering the Federal nutrition programs on methods and strategies for using Federal food dollars to create local and micro-enterprise development in areas where these nutrition programs are used; and

(4) to develop a unified strategy to use the Federal nutrition programs as a tool for economic development in food insecure regions, even in regions that have not traditionally been centers for food production where human need is evident.

  • There is no talk of educating people here, though.  How can you do any of this without educating and training people?

‘SEC. 221. OFFICE OF URBAN AGRICULTURE.

‘(a) Establishment- The Secretary shall establish within the executive operations of the Department an office to be known as the Office of Urban Agriculture.

‘(b) Purpose and Responsibilities of Office-

‘(1) PURPOSE- The Office of Urban Agriculture is established for the purpose of coordinating activities throughout the Department of Agriculture related to urban agriculture and nutrition.

‘(2) SPECIFIC RESPONSIBILITIES- The Office of Urban Agriculture shall be responsible for coordinating Department activities and conducting oversight in the following mission areas:

‘(A) Ensuring that Department authorities are used to effectively encourage agricultural production in underserved communities to combat hunger, poor nutrition, obesity, and food insecurity.
  • Should include food processing and preserving in this part to expand the scope of urban agriculture.

‘(B) Ensuring that Department authorities are used to empower communities, especially communities with a large percentage of low-income residents, to eliminate shortages of affordable, fresh food products, increase the local production and sale of food, and create sustainable food systems.

‘(C) Developing a unified strategy to link the agricultural production and nutrition programs administered by the Department as a tool for economic development in underserved communities in a manner that addresses local conditions and engages local residents through agricultural economic development.

‘(D) Ensuring that nutrition programs administered by State agencies maximize the impact of Federal funds in creating local agricultural microenterprises.

‘(E) Conducting systematic and regular reviews of Department authorities and making policy recommendations to Congress and the Secretary on new authorities or regulation changes to assist underserved communities to combat hunger, poor nutrition, obesity, and food insecurity.

‘(F) Ensuring that the programs established by the Greening Food Deserts Act and by amendments made by that Act are implemented in a manner consistent with the goal of eliminating underserved communities.

‘(c) Underserved Community Defined- In this section, the term ‘underserved community’ has the meaning given that term in section 25(a)(3) of the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 (7 U.S.C. 2034(a)(3)).’.

(b) Conforming Amendments- Section 296(b) of the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 (7 U.S.C. 7014(b)) is amended–

(1) in paragraph (6)(C), by striking ‘or’ at the end;

(2) in paragraph (7), by striking the period at the end and inserting ‘; or’; and

(3) by inserting after paragraph (7) the following new paragraph:

‘(8) the responsibility of the Secretary to establish in the Department the Office of Urban Agriculture in accordance with section 226B.’.

(c) Sufficiency of Resources for Office- Not later than 60 days after the date of enactment of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture shall submit to Congress a report describing the resources and staff necessary to permit the Office of Urban Agriculture established pursuant to section 221 of the Department of Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994, as added by subsection (a), to carry out its responsibilities under such section.

This last bit is a bit wordy and bureaucratic and I do wonder how effective a program like this would be without good management AND long-term funding.

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