House File 153, which establishes tax-funded grants for urban agriculture, is moving along in St. Paul. The bill allocates $6 Million from the General Fund for a new grant program to fund urban farming. The money would flow to cities, organizations, and individuals in the seven-county metro as well as Duluth, Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Mankato, Rochester, and St. Cloud. While a few other states have passed legislation for things like establishing community gardens or urban agriculture zones, Minnesota is poised to be the first to make direct-grants to urban farmers.
The Chief Author is Rep Karen Clark, D-Minneapolis, and the bill is co-sponsored by Rep Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, who serves as Chair for the Agricultural Finance committee where the bill was heard last week. Hamilton is a big booster of the program and recently said of the bill, “we’re going to be asking for some additional dollars so that we can do some great work, like this.” According to Rep Clark, this will be the first time that Minnesota has placed the words “urban agriculture” into state statute and has said she believes the bill is a matter of food justice. Rep Clark is the Executive Director of the Women’s Environmental Institute who has been busy organizing support for the bill. Another bill, HF179, which would give urban farmers the same access to loan and grant programs as rural farmers, is also co-sponsored by Rep Hamilton and Rep Clark.
At the April 8th Agriculture Finance committee hearing, Minneapolis urban farming activist Michael Chaney of Project Sweetie Pie testified on how the bill was conceived . He spoke of Congressman Keith Ellison bringing officials from the United Nations to Minneapolis to address issues of food security as well as the Minnesota Food Charter program under the Minnesota Department of Health as being motivating factors behind the legislation. The Council on Black Minnesotans included the legislation as a part of their agenda for this session and also testified at the hearing.
The Senate companion bill is Senate File 534 and also has bipartisan support with authors Sen Carla Nelson, R-Rochester and Assistant Minority Leader Sen Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.
Unanimous voice votes at the April 8th committee meeting moved the House version of the bill forward for possible inclusion in the larger Agriculture Finance omnibus bill.