On February 1, 2022, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the creation of the Federal Advisory Committee (FAC) on Urban Agriculture. Section 12302 of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 (the 2018 Farm Bill) amended the Agriculture Reorganization Act of 1994 by adding a section entitled “Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production”. This amendment is codified at 7 U.S.C. § 6923.  The amendment directs the Secretary of Agriculture to create the FAC as well as the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP). This blog post explains what the OUAIP does and the role the FAC plays. This post also discusses the impact urban agriculture has on Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and underserved communities.

What is Urban Agriculture?

Currently, there is not a statutory or regulatory definition for the term “urban agriculture”. However, on its website, USDA explains “urban agriculture generally refers to the cultivation, processing and distribution of agricultural products in urban and suburban settings, including things like vertical production, warehouse farms, community gardens, rooftop farms, hydroponic, aeroponic, and aquaponic facilities, and other innovations.” The USDA further explains “urban farmers and gardeners work among diverse populations to expand access to nutritious foods, foster community engagement, provide jobs, educate communities about farming, and expand green spaces.”

The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production

The OUAIP is a USDA-wide office, meaning that it gains input from and serves all USDA agencies. Although it is a department-wide office, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) is leading the effort. Many of the people running the OUAIP were formally NRCS employees, or are on a temporary detail with the OUAIP and will eventually return to their job at NRCS.

During an August 27, 2020, webinar introducing the OUAIP, Louis Aspey, OUAIP’s former Interim Director, explained that the office was put into place “because food insecurity is an everyday reality across the United States”. Aspey explained that food insecurity is “focused in many urban areas particularly caused by economic challenges and limited [access to] retail grocery stores which reduces or eliminates food shopping options, which results in . . . a food desert.”  Therefore, the OUAIP “supports innovative production methods that respond to these needs and interests to grow food in small spaces.”

The OUAIP has three main tasks. First, it manages a competitive grant program. Second, it oversees two pilot projects aimed at supporting urban producers and communities at the local level. Finally, it develops policies and resources to assist urban producers.

Urban Agriculture Grants and Pilot Projects

In the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress directed the OUAIP to award competitive grants and to establish two different pilot projects.

Congress directed the OUAIP to award competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, local governments, tribal governments, and schools that serve any grades kindergarten through grade 12. The goal of the grants is to support the development of urban agriculture and innovative production. As of February 3, 2022, the OUAIP has awarded 31 grants; 10 in 2020 and 21 in 2021. Grant recipients often serve BIPOC and underserved communities. For example, the Tampa Family Health Centers of Florida was awarded a grant for its Urban Community Garden-Food RX planning project which “will address the underlying issues of food insecurity contributing to chronic health conditions affecting disadvantaged and underserved residents.” Similarly, H.O.P.E. for Small Farm Sustainability out of Texas was awarded a grant for its Community Garden Initiative for At-Risk Youth of Texas program which will “offer sustainable agricultural training and experience to underserved populations.”

The OUAIP’s two pilot projects include the urban and suburban county committees, and a cooperative agreement project aimed at increasing municipal composting and reducing food waste.

The urban and suburban county committees are designed after and are very similar to the existing Farm Service Agency’s (FSA) county committees. According to FSA, county committees “are a critical component of the day-to-day operations of FSA” because they “help deliver FSA farm programs at the local level” and “farmers who serve on committees help decide the kind of programs their counties will offer.” The 2018 Farm Bill directed the OUAIP to establish 10 urban and suburban county committees.

So far, the OUAIP has established 11 urban and suburban county committees. These committees are located in:

  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Atlanta, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Louis, Missouri
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Cleveland, Ohio
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • Dallas, Texas
  • Richmond, Virginia

On top of encouraging and promoting urban agriculture, these county committees are also tasked with addressing food access, community engagement, community compost, and food waste reduction.

The second pilot project is the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction (CCFWR) Project. The 2018 Farm Bill mandated the OUAIP to enter into cooperative agreements with at least 10 local and municipal governments to further the CCFWR project. Through the CCFWR project cooperative agreements, local and municipal governments are to “develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans.” 7 U.S.C. § 6923(d)(2)(A). Between 2020 and 2021, OUAIP has entered into cooperative agreements with 37 local and municipal governments.

The Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture

In addition to the OUAIP, the 2018 Farm Bill directed the secretary of Agriculture to create a FAC. The FAC’s role is to advice the Director of the OUAIP on “the development of policies and outreach relating to urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural production practices”. 7 U.S.C. § 6923(b)(1)(A). In the Farm Bill, Congress mandated the FAC be made up of 12 members, and was very descriptive on who those 12 members should be. The Farm Bill requires:

  • 4 members be individuals who are agricultural producers, of which 2 must be agricultural producers located in an urban area; and the other 2 must be farmers that use innovative technology;
  • 2 members be representatives from an institution of higher education or extension programs;
  • 1 member be an individual who represents a nonprofit organization, such as a public health, environmental, or community organization;
  • 1 member be an individual who represents business and economic development, such as a business development entity, a chamber of commerce, a city government, or a planning organization;
  • 1 member be an individual with supply chain experience, which may include a food aggregator, wholesale food distributor, food hub, or an individual who has direct-to-consumer market experience;
  • 1 member be an individual from a financing entity; and
  • 2 members be individuals with experience or expertise in urban, indoor, and other emerging agriculture production practices.

The FAC will have three meetings a year. According to the February 1 press release, the first meeting will be open to the public and will be held at the end of February, but the details about the exact date and time are not yet available.

Looking Ahead

As the press release states, urban agriculture “plays an important role in producing fresh, healthy food in areas where grocery stores are scarce, and also provides jobs and beautifies neighborhoods.” However, urban producers face unique barriers and obstacles. At the direction of the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA has taken steps to help urban producers overcome these obstacles. However, the 2018 Farm Bill only appropriated funds for these projects through fiscal year 2023. This means that for these projects to continue beyond 2023, Congress will have to re-appropriate funds. Although Congress can re-appropriate funds for the OUAIP and the FAC through other legislation, the most likely avenue for such re-appropriation will be through the 2023 Farm Bill.

 

To read the press release announcing the Federal Advisory Committee on Urban Agriculture, click here.

To learn more about the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production, visit its website, here.

To explore more National Agricultural Law Center resources for BIPOC and underserved communities, click here.

 

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