NSAC's Blog

A Look at the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production

March 3, 2023

The 2018 Farm Bill offered a variety of victories for NSAC’s priorities. It also elevated attention and support for the growing number of urban agriculture and small-scale innovative producers across the nation by directing USDA to create an Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) and programs to support related activities. 

This blog post offers a look at the status of the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production’s program activities since the 2018 Farm Bill. While full implementation has yet to be fulfilled, there has been immense progress. We are optimistic that the 2023 Farm Bill will continue to build upon its successes to date.  

Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production 

The 2018 Farm Bill authorized a new Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production whose mission is to encourage and promote urban, indoor, and other innovative agricultural practices. While the name implies a restriction to urban areas, urban agriculture broadly covers a variety of growing techniques that lend themselves to urban environments but have been adopted in both suburban and rural areas. The office promotes a wide variety of practices such as community gardens, outdoor vertical production, greenhouses, indoor farms, hydroponic facilities, and more. 

The creation of the Office of Urban Agriculture started off slow. The office was delayed in its full implementation because the Farm Bill did not authorize any mandatory funding, only discretionary funding, and it was not until fiscal year (FY) 2020 that NSAC, along with many urban agriculture advocates, were able to secure a modest initial appropriation to allow for its establishment. Since FY2020, advocates have grown the office’s annual appropriations from $5 million to $8.5 million in FY2023. While some additional funds have been allocated to programs through the American Rescue Plan Act, the office remains funded well below its authorized level of $25 million. 

Grants and Cooperative Agreements

In 2020, OUAIP made $3 million available in their inaugural Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Competitive Grants. Since then, $40.5 million has been invested in local communities to increase the capacity of urban agriculture to supply critical food needs. The program offers both planning and implementation grants to non-profit organizations, schools, and local and Tribal governments to conduct education and training to growers, invest in new technology, and build infrastructure to support networks of farmers to expand access to healthy foods in their communities. 

Congress also directed OUAIP to create a community composting pilot program that would support the planning and implementation of compost plans to reduce municipal food waste. Since 2020, OUAIP has entered into 82 Composting and Food Waste Reduction (CFWR) Cooperative Agreements across 31 states and one territory. These agreements are supporting communities in food waste reduction while also generating compost for local and urban producers. Priority is given to projects that are collaborative, increase availability of compost among farmers, and integrate multiple food waste strategies. 

Efforts to Increase Public Involvement in Implementation 

To ensure opportunities for ongoing input from the public for program implementation, the 2018 Farm Bill instructed the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to pilot ten urban and suburban county committees to ensure FSA programs are administered fairly across their geographical areas. These committees had a staged announcement over the course of 2020 and 2021. To date, USDA has established 17 committees across 15 states; however, urban farmers have shared that it has been difficult to easily find election information, understand whether they are eligible, or to connect with the elected committee members. 

Additionally, OUAIP established the Federal Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production to provide guidance and recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretary) for policies, programs and resources that can address barriers for producers in urban areas and effectively disseminate urban, indoor and other emerging agricultural production practices in communities. 

Since March 2022, the Advisory Committee has held four public meetings and has been developing their list of recommendations they plan to deliver to the Secretary this year. 

Last week at the latest meeting, the committee refined a subset of their recommendations. The recommendations are to:  

  • Create a public/online database that would serve as the aggregation point for a comprehensive updated list of programs for funding, incentives and support available to urban farmers and innovative producers and share these opportunities in ways that are culturally and linguistically appropriate;
  • Conduct a review of the FSA Microloan programs to determine overall utilization, program effectiveness, and typical timelines required from inquiry to funding within the FSA office. submit public comments
  • Add the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) as an eligible USDA program to the list of program participation that is required for an individual to be eligible to vote on or serve on a local FSA county or urban committee; and
  • Provide guidance to local governments and private citizens on best practices and resources to assist in accessing, maintaining and keeping land in urban and innovative agricultural conservation use.   

Currently individuals have an opportunity to submit written comments to the Advisory Committee to consider when finalizing their recommendations. Comments must be submitted by March 9th, 2023. 

NSAC’s Recommendations for the Office 

Last year, NSAC released its 2023 Farm Bill platform which provides a comprehensive list of recommendations to achieve a farm bill that advances racial equity, builds a climate resilient future, invests in healthy communities, and levels the playing field for all growers.  

The Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUAIP) and its associated programs have the potential to influence our food and farming systems in a way that brings us closer to those values. While OUAIP has invested millions of dollars in local communities to foster urban agricultural production and improve food access, there are areas for better integration of OUIAP across USDA to ensure access and utilization of its programs. 

The 2023 Farm Bill offers an opportunity for OUAIP to be strengthened and better support growers and communities by: 

  • providing technical assistance to urban farmers in business development, navigating local zoning, managing small and non-contiguous parcels of land, 
  • promoting conservation techniques unique to urban agriculture that considers stormwater runoff, lead contamination, and building soil on brownfield or other land with low-quality soil characteristics,
  • Ensuring cooperative agreements to carry out OUAIP program activities are established with organizations that have experience providing urban agricultural technical assistance to socially disadvantaged populations and those with limited English proficiency,
  • expanding opportunities for the OUAIP grant funds to reach agricultural cooperatives or business, support mini-grants to producers, and establish tool-sharing programs,
  • evaluate OUAIP programming to better understand urban agriculture’s impact on our local markets and economies, and improving community food security, and
  • Providing mandatory funding for the office at $50 million/year. 

Categories: Carousel, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems

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