USDA earmarks $7.5M for Urban Ag

  • April 19, 2023
  • William Payne

The US Department of Agriculture is putting $7.5 million into urban agriculture projects to address urban food security and sustainability. Urban agriculture employs agtech and IoT to implement vertical indoor farming practices.

It is typically more productive and space efficient than conventional farming by orders of magnitude. It can employ existing urban buildings or brownfield sites. Urban agriculture also sharply reduces transportation, supply chain and storages costs and environmental impacts. It is potentially a key mechanism for achieving urban Net Zero as well as reducing food costs and food poverty in major cities, conurbations and mega-cities.

The grants are being made available the USDA’s Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP). The competitive grants are available for urban agriculture planning projects and implementation projects.

Planning Projects initiate or expand efforts of farmers, gardeners, citizens, government officials, schools and other stakeholders in urban areas and suburbs. Projects may target areas of food access, education, business and start-up costs for new farmers and the development of plans related to zoning and other needs of urban production. For example, the Texas Coalition of Rural Landowners used 2022 awarded funds to conduct a feasibility study and develop a business plan to establish a cooperative for small-scale agricultural producers serving low food access markets in Harris County, Texas.

Implementation Projects accelerate existing and emerging models of urban, indoor and other agricultural practices that serve farmers and communities. Projects may improve local food access, include collaboration with partner organisations, and support infrastructure needs, emerging technologies, and educational endeavours. For example, the Moka Urban Agriculture Initiative used 2022 awarded funds for a project to increase local food access and provide culturally relevant options that create economic opportunities for urban farmers. The project will help to reduce food insecurity, improve health and establish outdoor spaces for food production in Missouri.

The OUAIP was established through the 2018 Farm Bill. It is led by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and works in partnership with numerous USDA agencies that support urban agriculture and innovative production. The grants are part of a broad USDA investment in urban agriculture.

The USDA has also created a Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production to advise the Secretary on the development of policies and outreach relating to urban agriculture.

The Department has also reopened the People’s Garden Initiative. People’s Gardens grow fresh food and support resilient local food systems; teach people how to garden using sustainable practices; and nurture habitat for pollinators and wildlife and greenspace for neighbours.

Other USDA activities including providing cooperative agreements that develop and test strategies for planning and implementing municipal compost plans and food waste reduction plans; technical and financial assistance through conservation programmes offered by NRCS; and organising 17 Farm Service Agency urban county committees.