Earlier this summer the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production (OUIAP) announced a series of new investments that build on their short but impactful history since their inaugural awards in 2020
OUAIP was established in the 2018 Farm Bill and tasked with a wide variety of responsibilities to support the development and success of urban, indoor, and other emerging agricultural practices. These practices are diverse and can include growing efficiently in microlots or inside warehouses, food waste reduction strategies, and community composting. OUAIP implements strategies to ensure their success while fostering community food security through networks of growers, partners, and community members.
While OUAIP is housed within the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS), it works across United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) agencies. For example, OUAIP works with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to ensure support for all types of agricultural practices regardless of the size of an operation, where it is located, or the techniques used for production. Beyond farm production and conservation services, they also partner with the Food and Nutrition Service and Agricultural Marketing Service to support the development of community networks that connect producers with local food access initiatives.
Expanding Access to Services
The latest announcement of investments in July seeks to serve the unique needs of growers in urban and indoor settings through the establishment of seventeen new Urban Service Centers. These centers will include co-located FSA and NRCS staff, just like the existing 2,300 USDA Service Centers, but with a focus on supporting urban and innovative growers in navigating farm loans, conservation program access, and other risk management resources to ensure the success of their farm.
In the past, urban, micro-scale growers, or agricultural operations using new and innovative practices risked traveling to a service center just to be turned away due to a staff member not having resources to support them. OUAIP has sought to address these issues by locating the Urban Service Centers in areas with high concentrations of urban and micro-scale growers and implementing updated procedures that address historical barriers for participation among these growers.
Under the initial direction from Congress, OUAIP established 17 pilot FSA Urban County Committees. In an ongoing effort to ensure FSA and NRCS services respond to the dynamic, place-based needs of farmers, OUAIP announced ten additional committees in July, bringing the total to 27 committees across 22 states.
These committees serve an important role in tailoring each center’s services to the geographical needs of the agricultural community: hiring local staff, reviewing local administrative area boundaries, supporting local policy development, and conducting outreach to growers regarding services offered by USDA.
Other Recent Investments with Far-Reaching Impacts
In an ongoing effort to expand the reach of OAUIP’s services, the office utilized funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to establish agreements with 17 local organizations to conduct outreach, education, and technical assistance to farmers within the communities of the Urban Service Centers.
This initiative seeks to build upon existing, trusted relationships within communities while building local organizational capacity to support farmers and raise awareness of programs and resources available at the USDA Urban Service Centers. Each agreement is unique and reflects input from urban and innovative farmers in the area. Generally, each organization will conduct activities related to outreach, host trainings and workshops, provide individual technical assistance, and offer capacity-building mini grants to farmers.
Since 2020, OUAIP has awarded over 180 grants totaling an investment of more than $48 million to non-profits organizations, local governments, and schools. And while “urban agriculture” is in the title of the grants, these funding opportunities are not limited to urban areas and their investments can be seen in suburban and rural communities across the United States. These funds have supported grant recipients in:
- Training producers in new growing techniques to more effectively use resources and adapt to climate change.
- Establishing incubator farms that provide subsidized access to lands, equipment, and water.
- Creating jobs and promoting workforce development for youth and aspiring farmers using indoor and hydroponic production technologies.
- Expanding access to nutritious foods through networks of gardens and aggregation systems that route produce to food insecure communities.
La Semilla Food Center, an NSAC member and recent awardee, from Anthony, New Mexico, will use their funds to accelerate existing and innovative community-based urban agriculture food production efforts through youth training and mentoring in desert-adapted agroecological farming, such as their Raices Youth Program and Food and Farm Apprenticeship Program. This project will enhance operations of community urban farms, advancement of ancestral and emerging technologies germane to desert agroecology, and increase access to fresh and locally grown produce, while inspiring a new generation of urban agriculture practitioners, farmers, and local food advocates.
Ensuring Continued Success through the Farm Bill
Congress is poised to grow the success of the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. Congressional leaders – Senators John Fetterman (D-PA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) – have already taken steps to ensure this is the case by introducing the Supporting Urban and Innovative Farming Act (S. 2591).
Since OUAIP received its first appropriation in 2020, it has invested over $57 million in 184 grants and 82 cooperative agreements to increase the capacity of urban agriculture, innovative producers, and municipal composting initiatives in local communities across 43 states and Puerto Rico. Yet this is only a fraction of the demand for the office. Since 2020, OUAIP has received more than 1,500 applications for the urban agriculture and innovative production grants, but due to limited funding only 12% of requests have been awarded.
The Supporting Urban and Innovative Farming Act would increase funding for the office to better respond to program demand, while establishing mandatory funding so that OUAIP is not subject to the annual appropriations process. It would go further to provide policy reforms to improve the reach of its core programs by:
- expanding grant opportunities to farmer cooperatives,
- providing microgrants directly to farmers for equipment and other impactful, small investments,
- utilizing trusted community partnerships to lead outreach and delivery of services through cooperative agreements,
- supporting communities in scaling composting and food waste initiatives statewide, and
- investing in research and data collection that allows for USDA to better serve the needs of urban and innovative producers.
For more information about the bill, visit our website.