On September 8, Ohio Rep. Marcy Kaptur introduced the Urban Agriculture Production Act (HR 3699), a bill designed to strengthen federal nutrition and farmers market programs and help support the next generation of local, urban farmers. Originally introduced in 2016, Kaptur recently updated the bill by including a provision to expand the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) - a USDA program that provides low income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible food at farmers markets and CSAs - to include low-income veterans for the first time.
How Does Urban Agriculture Production Act Affect Local Farmers?
According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, approximately seven percent of all farms in the United States had direct-to-consumer sales totaling at least $1,300,000,000, with the highest of such sales coming from farms in or near urban areas. To help bolster these direct sales, HR 3699 authorizes the Farm Service Agency to carry out a program to make loans and loan guarantees to farmers' markets, nonprofits, co-ops and other eligible entities for projects that establish, expand and promote direct producer-to-consumer marketing and assist in the development of local food businesses. The bill also increases funding for both the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Community Food Projects grant program.
How Does HR 3699 Impact Urban Agriculture?
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, as the world's cities grow, the role of urban farmers will become increasingly important. The percentage of urban families engaged in agriculture varies from 10 percent in some large cities in North America to as many as 80 percent in some smaller Siberian and Asian cities. As a result, the UN says that the informal activities of city farmers require increasing financial and technical support. Kaptur agrees, arguing in the introduction of her bill that it's imperative to ensure that urban agricultural production remains a viable option to help meet the food production needs of the future.
To support food production in cities across America, HR 3699 establishes a permanent Urban Agriculture Liaison and Outreach Program at USDA. This role, which is currently being piloted in Brooklyn, NY, has received some positive support from community groups in New York who have in the past had trouble accessing resources and grants from USDA. The bill also aims to support urban agriculture and farmers markets by establishing a new Urban Agriculture Outreach competitive grants program to advance agriculture production in underserved, undernourished metropolitan areas; improving federal agriculture reporting by including farmers markets in the USDA agriculture census; and makes urban farmers and ranchers eligible for the Community Facilities Direct Loan and Grant Program for the first time.
A New Senior and Veteran Farmers Market Program
The bill also increases funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) from $20 million per year to $50million in mandatory and $50 million in discretionary funding per year and expands the program to include low-income Veterans for the first time. But why Veterans? According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, nearly one in four Veterans receiving care from the VA has diabetes and an estimated 78 percent of Veterans are obese or overweight. States like New York have taken on the issue themselves through the creation of innovative pilot programs like the Fresh Connect Check Veterans Program. By creating a potentially $100 million per year federal program to help feed Veterans and low-income seniors through nutrition incentives, the new SFMNP program could potentially make a significant impact on the food insecurity and diet-related diseases experienced in such high rates in these communities.
Research has demonstrated that nutrition incentives offered through SFMNP, the Women Infant and Children (WIC) program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive programs work. According to a study on nutrition incentives by Wholesome Wave, between 74 percent and 94 percent of participating SNAP farmers' market shoppers reported that they were either buying or consuming more fruits and vegetables as a result of the incentive program, and well over half reported trying new kinds of produce because of the incentives. In California, 80 percent of participants in the nutrition incentive Market Match program reported that their family's health had improved as a result of the program. And with these farmers' market-based incentive programs, the benefits are not limited to the consumers. These incentive dollars go directly into the pocket of local farmers who collect the coupons at the market and redeem them with the state.
"Too many urban neighborhoods are in food deserts that lack stores where people can purchase fresh, healthy foods, so the federal government needs to step up and improve access to nutritious foods," said Kaptur in a press release on her site. "Nutritious and healthy eating can reduce the rate of diabetes, hypertension and obesity related illnesses and my bill builds on successful nutritional programs, like the Seniors Farmers' Market."