Twenty-four Gold Stars
By Miryam Ehrlich Williamson
Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-OH09), the longest-serving woman in Congress, has filed a bill meant to increase the supply of fresh produce in America’s cities.
H.R. 4971, the Greening Food Deserts Act, was filed March 25 with 23 co-sponsors. It’s now on the docket of both the Education and Labor and Agriculture committees, each to hear the part of the bill that comes under its jurisdiction.
Here is the bill’s stated purpose:
To increase the emphasis on urban agricultural issues in the Department of Agriculture through the establishment of a new office to ensure that Department authorities are used to effectively encourage local agricultural production and increase the availability of fresh food in urban areas, particularly underserved communities experiencing hunger, poor nutrition, obesity, and food insecurity, and for other purposes.
Here is how the bill proposes to accomplish these goals:
- Establish an Office of Urban Agriculture within the USDA, to encourage urban agriculture, increase local food production and sales, create “sustainable food systems” to eliminate the shortage of fresh food, and create a link between urban agriculture, food stamps, and the school lunch program.
- Authorize up to $20 million in grants and loans to organizations working to foster urban agriculture. Note, though, the phrase “up to.” That means $20 million could be $10 million, or zero, depending on what the Appropriations Committee ultimately decides.
- Add to the fund already established to give cash vouchers to seniors for use at farmers’ markets, which helps both low income seniors and farmers. Provide infrastructure-building loans to farmers’ markets. Require the agriculture census taken every five years to collect data on farmers’ markets and their impact on the communities they serve.
- Pay an extra 20% per school-served meal to schools that teach students to plant and maintain vegetable gardens, and serve food grown in those gardens in school lunches. The present subsidy per school lunch is $2.68. At that level, the reward would be 53 cents per lunch.
- Authorize a pilot program of “sustainability grants” that will encourage food banks and other feeding programs to show low income people how to grow foods in backyard plots and community gardens, and to process and sell the food they grow. It would also provide extra food stamps for families that grow fruits and vegetables.
Co-sponsors to date are:
Rep Clay, Wm. Lacy [MO-1]
Rep Cummings, Elijah E. [MD-7]
Rep Dahlkemper, Kathleen A. [PA-3]
Rep Davis, Danny K. [IL-7]
Rep Fudge, Marcia L. [OH-11]
Rep Hare, Phil [IL-17]
Rep Jackson, Jesse L., Jr. [IL-2]
Rep Kanjorski, Paul E. [PA-11]
Rep Kildee, Dale E. [MI-5]
Rep Kilpatrick, Carolyn C. [MI-13]
Rep Kucinich, Dennis J. [OH-10]
Rep Lee, Barbara [CA-9]
Rep McGovern, James P. [MA-3]
Rep Moore, Gwen [WI-4]
Rep Murphy, Patrick J. [PA-8]
Rep Neal, Richard E. [MA-2]
Rep Roybal-Allard, Lucille [CA-34]
Rep Rush, Bobby L. [IL-1]
Rep Ryan, Tim [OH-17]
Rep Sherman, Brad [CA-27]
Rep Sutton, Betty [OH-13]
Rep Tonko, Paul D. [NY-21]
Rep Velazquez, Nydia M. [NY-12]
Like the first grade teacher I once was, I hereby paste a virtual gold star on the forehead of Rep. Kaptur and her 23-co-signers. I hope others join them, and they feel encouraged to press for hearings and favorable action in the House.
You can see the whole bill here.