Stabenow seeks to grow urban farming with aid
U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow announces the most comprehensive urban agriculture legislation to be introduced in Congress during a press conference at D-Town Farm in Detroit. Virginia Lozano, The Detroit News
Detroit — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow on Monday unveiled a measure designed to lend a hand to the country’s urban farmers with education and loan programs while providing Americans more access to healthy, locally sourced foods.
The proposed Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, unveiled during a news conference at the D-Town Farm in northwest Detroit’s Rouge Park, calls for an infusion of $46 million per year over 10 years.
The Lansing Democrat said the measure is the first comprehensive look at urban agriculture and making sure it’s available for urban growers.
“Support and infrastructure has been there for traditional agriculture, but it’s not been there for smaller urban operations,” she said. “We want to make sure that it is now.”
The bill would help fund research and technologies for lowering energy and water needs as well as development of community gardens, nutrition education and mentor programs.
It also would give urban farmers more chances to get loans to finance food production, processing and marketing — issues they struggle with now. The legislation also seeks to tap into existing programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Stabenow said.
“This is a very important step,” said Stabenow, the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
The legislation is to be introduced in Congress this week. Lawmakers are beginning an educational campaign to secure bipartisan support.
Other provisions would allow for rooftop, vertical farms and indoor production to make it easier for urban farms to apply for USDA farm programs, Stabenow said.
The bill would also create an urban agriculture office at the USDA to provide urban farmers with technical assistance.
Dave Armstrong, president and CEO of GreenStone Farm Credit Services, an East Lansing-based agricultural lender, said the bill opens up more doors for urban farming, an emerging market that’s outside the mainstream.
“We don’t have a lot of urban farmers in the portfolio today because of the challenges that they encounter,” said Armstrong, whose group serves 24,000 members in locations in Michigan and Wisconsin. “This initiative is an important step in supporting the evolving agriculture industry.”
Stabenow said the bill is the result of a year of work with leaders in Detroit and across the state. The legislation, she said, will support urban farmers, but it will be up to individual communities to establish policies and zoning rules to govern where urban farms can operate.
In Detroit, officials adopted a zoning ordinance in 2013 to legalizing urban farming that was popping up across the city. Officials have since been considering amendments.
Malik Yakini is executive director of Detroit Black Community Food Security Network, a nonprofit that oversees the D-Town Farm.
D-Town is on seven acres of city-owned land and grows more than 30 fruits and vegetables. It also has composting, solar energy and beekeeping stations. The crops are sold at farmers markets and provided to wholesale customers in Detroit.
Yakini said urban agriculture is critical to Detroit, finding purpose for unused land, beautifying neighborhoods and building the economy.
“The growing of the food is just one aspect of this,” he said. “In between the grower and the consumer, there’s all these different levels. It’s in those middle layers that there’s tremendous opportunity for creating jobs and for the development of wealth. We need to more fully develop the infrastructure that supports the growers.”
Mayor Mike Duggan on Monday added the city has an abundance of land that’s being put to productive use by urban farm groups.
“Agriculture is going to be a part of Detroit’s economy for years to come,” he said.