Urban Ag and Food Waste Bills considered in Congress

This past September, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, who serves on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, introduced a bill that would make urban farms of all types eligible for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs and would set up an office of urban agriculture within the agency. The Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, as envisioned by Senator Stabenow, would help create new economic opportunities, giving urban families greater access to healthy food and creating a healthier environment in cities and towns across the country. 

Noting her interest in building on programs for organic and local and regional agriculture in the 2014 Farm Bill, she said her bill also reflects the growth and range of urban farming, from fruit and vegetable production on abandoned property in Detroit to a vertical farm in Newark and rooftop farms in Brooklyn.

The legislation addresses the unique needs of urban farmers by investing new resources and increasing flexibility through existing programs administered by USDA. The Urban Agriculture Act of 2016, as proposed, would: 

  • Create new economic opportunities through supporting farm cooperatives in urban areas, making it easier for urban farms to apply for USDA farm programs, and invest money for cutting-edge research to explore market opportunities for urban agriculture.
  • Prove new financial tools & support through expanding existing USDA farm loan programs to cover new farm-related activities by urban farmers, provide risk management tools to protect against crop losses, create a new urban agriculture office at USDA, and connect urban farmers with rural farmers for mentoring and education. 
  • Increase access to healthy foods by investing in tools and equipment for community gardens, creating a pilot program providing incentives to urban farmers using sustainable growing practices.
  • Create a healthier environment by expanding resources for technical and financial support to test, clean up and provide best practices for soil remediation, and create a pilot program to provide urban farmers access to compost while reducing food waste.

Food waste

Also on the table is proposed legislation to address the problem of food waste in the United States. Congresswoman Chellie Pingree of Maine in May testified before the House Agriculture Committee to kick off the first-ever congressional hearing focusing on this issue.

“When good food goes to waste on the farm, it means the resources used to grow that food—fuel, labor and water—is also wasted. When it goes to waste in a local restaurant, it means less revenue for the owner. And wherever and whenever food is wasted, it means less food for the 50 million Americans who are food insecure,” Senator Pingree told the committee.

Up to 40 percent of all food produced in the United States is wasted. In December 2015, Pingree introduced the Food Recovery Act, a comprehensive package of proposals designed to reduce food waste in America. In May 2016, she and Senator Dick Blumenthal of Connecticut introduced a bill to reform date labeling on food, which has been identified as one of the most cost-effective methods for reducing food waste.

“There is no single solution to the problem of food waste. And not all of the solutions will be simple or easy. But many—if not most—of the solutions are common sense proposals that should be things we can all agree on,” Pingree testified.

Congresswoman Pingree intends to reintroduce the food waste legislation in the new Congress. //