By Eric Hansen
The 2018 Farm Bill required the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish an Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production. In authorizing the Office, Congress recognized that farmers in urban communities may not fully take advantage of USDA’s resources and may need extra focus. USDA recently created this Office within the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), and the Office has been busy implementing the farm bill’s urban agriculture provisions.
The Office has a number of responsibilities and will administer two grant programs. The first, the Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Competitive Grant Program, is currently open for applications. This program will fund both planning and implementation grants for tribal governments, local governments, nonprofits and schools to support and increase urban agricultural producers. The second grant program, the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Project Cooperative Agreements, is accepting applications from local governments, including conservation districts, for projects specifically focused on compost and related urban conservation.
The Office is also coordinating the launch of ten Urban and Suburban County Committees in the next two years. These locally-elected committees, run by the Farm Service Agency (FSA), oversee FSA county office activities. County committees are a common feature in rural communities where FSA has a much larger footprint. FSA services should be better tailored to urban producers by bringing these committees to urban and suburban areas.
Finally, the Office will be launching an Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Advisory Committee to guide its work later this year. More information on the Office can be found here: https://www.farmers.gov/urban.
While the new Office at NRCS is the focal point for most urban agriculture work at NRCS, the 2018 Farm Bill also created a new research grant program housed at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). Although this grant program has not yet been launched, NIFA is currently asking for feedback on how the grant program should operate and what research needs funding. To view the solicitation and provide comments, visit the Federal Register.
NACD supported the 2018 Farm Bill’s urban agriculture provisions and the creation of the Office of Urban Agriculture and Production. Conservation districts have been bringing voluntary conservation to urban areas for many years and have undertaken projects to improve the water quality of urban stormwater, control erosion and sediment from development sites, and increase conservation by urban farmers.
Since 2016, NACD has partnered with NRCS to award grants to conservation districts to enhance districts’ urban agriculture conservation technical assistance activities in developed and developing areas of both urban and rural communities. These awards have funded urban gardens, education programs and technical assistance to urban producers, among other topics. To date, NACD and NRCS have awarded $5 million to 102 conservation districts. More information on these grants is available on NACD’s Urban and Community Conservation webpage.