Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the opening of the 2020-21 PA Farm Bill’s $500,000 Urban Agriculture Grant Program to grow agricultural infrastructure in urban food deserts to improve access to fresh, local food and provide opportunities for hands-on learning and community-building.
“In 2020 we saw the sad result of the reality of food apartheids as people in urban communities without access to fresh, nutritious food were disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” said Redding. “Nutrition and health – strong immune systems and susceptibility to disease – are inextricably linked. COVID-19 compounded upon years of lack of access to nutritious food and minority urban communities were hit hard by the pandemic.
“The Urban Ag Program aims to increase access to fresh and nutritious food while simultaneously providing opportunities for personal and community growth through shared purpose and passion,” said Redding.
The Urban Agriculture Grant Program will provide grants to improve agriculture infrastructure in urban areas, the aggregation of product, sharing of resources, and support for community development efforts.
Two types of grants can be awarded: “microgrants” and “collaboration” grants. Microgrants of up to $2,500 in matching funds can be used for one-time projects or a single entity applicant. Collaboration grants (up to $50,000 in matching funds) demonstrate cooperative or regional efforts which share resources, aggregate agricultural products or producers, promote the sharing of resources among agricultural entities, and support community development.
Redding was joined by state Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia), champion for the Urban Ag Program legislation in Governor Tom Wolf’s inaugural Pennsylvania Farm Bill, and Frank Sherman, co-managing director for First Light Project who received a grant in the last round to initiate their pilot farm to grow food for Philadelphia while simultaneously addressing a need for jobs, food, ag education, and improved health and well-being in the community.
“Pennsylvania agriculture is integral to our ability to keep food resources flowing during COVID. Food banks and urban gardens have been the vanguard against hunger and food insecurity,” said Street. “The Urban Agriculture Grant Program has been vital in providing food resources for 28 projects in 2020. It is encouraging to know that 2021 grant applications will continue to sustain communities across the Commonwealth as we move beyond this health crisis.”
First Light Project uses hydroponic technology on farms throughout the city to grow and sell leafy greens and herbs. They train and employ residents to operate the hydroponic farm, address food insecurity, inspire the community, and support the local economy. First Light used their $37,884 Urban Ag Grant funds to offset the cost of a full-scale hydroponic farm in the Philabundance Warehouse. Upon completion of development, the farm will employ five local community members, four high school interns annually, and is expected to produce nearly 100,000 pounds of produce annually. Of this fresh produce, the farm is committed to donating at least 10 percent directly to community partners to reduce food insecurity in Philadelphia.
“This pandemic has focused our attention on inequities, but it has also sharpened our focus on the important role urban and community gardens play in our commonwealth’s food system,” added Redding. “This funding for urban ag projects will strengthen the resiliency of urban communities across Pennsylvania and the food that grows from these projects will nourish those in need, together breaking down the walls of food apartheid.”
The PA Farm Bill is a comprehensive set of programming and funding for Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry. With the third round of funding proposed in Governor Wolf’s 2021-22 budget, the PA Farm Bill will continue to strengthen the resiliency of the industry so many rely on to sustain life.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Farm Bill visit agriculture.pa.gov/pafarmbill. The Department of Agriculture is actively working to roll out grant programs for the 2020-21 funding. The Ag and Youth Grant Program and Commonwealth Specialty Crop Block Grant Program are open now with their application periods closing on March 5, 2021.