In Missouri, efforts to establish urban agriculture zones are moving forward.
The House Bill 1660 is being presented in the legislature’s House Committee on Agriculture Policy in February. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Jason Holsman and was filed in response to the findings of last year’s Joint Interim Committee on Urban Agriculture. The bill’s purpose is to create three types of urban agriculture zones, for growers, vendors and processors.
Five different public hearings were held by the Joint Interim Committee on Urban Agriculture starting in Kansas City in July, 2011. Subsequent hearings took place in Springfield, Columbia, St. Louis and Jefferson City. The Committee’s final report was released at the Jefferson City hearing in January 2012, and included summary reports of the testimony collected, as well as chapters written by organizations such as the Greater Kansas City Food Policy Coalition and Cultivate Kansas City. Copies of the final report are available from Rep. Jason Holsman, who chaired the Interim Committee. Rep. Holsman can be contacted at email@example.com.
HB 1660 would allow municipalities to designate blighted areas of a community as Urban Agriculture Zones (UAZs) within which various benefits and incentives would promote agricultural activity by individuals and organizations. The bill defines a UAZ as a zone which contains an organization or person who grows produce or other agricultural products, raises or processes livestock or poultry or sells at a minimum 75% locally grown or raised food. According to the bill, activities in the grower UAZ include growing produce, raising livestock or producing other value-added agricultural products. Activities in the processor UAZ include processing livestock or poultry for human consumption. Activities in the vendor UAZ include selling produce, meat or value-added agricultural products produced in the UAZ’s county or an adjoining county.
Among the stipulations of HB 1660 are provisions that (1) require the applicant for a UAZ to provide a plan for at least one educational opportunity per month to local school districts, (2) remove the tax assessment of any UAZ for 10 years once the application requirements have been met, and (3) provides that a grower UAZ will pay wholesale cost for water consumed and pay 50 percent of the standard cost to hook into the water source, among others.
Originally the distinction and approval of a UAZ was available only to municipalities with at least 5,000 residents. However, a revision was suggested at the public hearing to the Agriculture Policy Committee to include smaller municipalities and there was support for that revision.
HB 1660 is important as we look for better ways to provide healthy food to our citizens safely and affordably while reducing our carbon footprint and keeping money in our communities. We already have urban areas experiencing extremely limited access to healthy, affordable food, with severe consequences for residents’ health and for the local economy.
The state of Missouri has the fifth-highest rate of child food insecurity and is eighth in adult food insecurity in the United States. That means we have a large number of families and individuals who do not have enough food to eat and are limiting their portions, skipping meals or not knowing when they will next eat. For those living in food deserts or struggling with food insecurity, the development of community gardens, urban farms, and farmers markets in their neighborhoods creates a critical improvement in access to healthy affordable foods.
HB 1660 is particularly relevant in light of the vacant land crisis many urban areas are experiencing as a result of population decline. Vacant lots are a financial burden to local governments, which need to mow them, remove trash and provide other maintenance. These lots are also eyesores in a neighborhood and provide space for illegal activities. Turning vacant lots into farms or community gardens not only addresses problems of food access and food insecurity, but also helps clean up the neighborhood, relieves maintenance by local government, increases property tax revenue, and produces economic returns to the neighborhood.
Urban Agriculture Zones, as defined in HB 1660, would encourage the growing, processing and sale of local foods. In turn, the zones would provide residents with access to healthier food options, create jobs and keep food dollars in the local economy. In so doing, HB1660 would provide cities with a tool for improving the physical and economic health of their communities. However, the bill will first need to pass both the House and Senate by mid-May, when the 2012 legislative session ends. At the time of publication, the bill was still awaiting a vote in the House’s Agriculture Policy Committee. The bill’s status can be tracked at www.house.mo.gov.