Fair Farms Testimony for Urban Farming Bill in Montgomery County

    October 6, 2016

Dear Council President Floreen and Honorable Members of the Montgomery County Council:

We write to you today in support of Bill 31-16, the urban agriculture tax credit bill sponsored by Councilmember Hucker. We applaud Montgomery County’s efforts to incentivize urban farming in the county and urge a favorable recommendation on this important piece of legislation.

Fair Farms is building a movement of Marylanders of all stripes, working together for a new food system — one that is fair to farmers, invests in homegrown healthy foods, and restores our waterways instead of polluting them. We are comprised of nine steering committee organizations and more than 150 partners in the nonprofit and business community. Our partners include urban farms across the state, like Whitelock Community Farm , ECO City Farms and Charm City Farms. These urban farms are pursuing affordable, sustainable fresh food sources, while providing neighborhood job creation, seeking to enhance food security, increasing the health of communities, and aiding them in a transition towards a no-fossil fuel future economy and society. We are also partnered with Farm Alliance of Baltimore, which is a network of producers working to increase the viability of urban farming and improve access to urban grown foods.

Bill 31-16 is designed to provide a tax credit to promote urban agriculture in Montgomery County for properties between ½ and five acres. Properties of this size that participate in urban agriculture currently do not receive the tax credit available to larger properties doing the same activities.

By opening up the urban agriculture tax credit to smaller parcels, Montgomery County has the opportunity to bring in more urban farms with associated economic, environmental and public health benefits. The average small plot can produce between $500 and $700 of food in just one season.[1]

More urban farms in Montgomery County will:

  • Provide access to fresh food in areas where such food is scare. Urban farms can enhance the county’s food security.[2] Urban farming increases food security by providing increased, local access to healthy food, especially poor households. A typical American city needs to dedicate just 10% of its land to urban farming to produce enough vegetables for the recommended vegetable intake of its entire population.[3] In Maryland, Baltimore passed an urban farming tax credit to alleviate food deserts, or places that are food insecure.[4]
  • Reduces carbon and energy dependence associated with food transportation.[5] Food related emissions across the United States account for 1/5th of total emissions, or 6.1 tons of CO2 per year.[6] According to Worldwatch Institute, an average food product travels between 1,500 and 2,500 miles from farm to table.[7] In certain areas, produce like carrots, tomatoes, onions, and green beans travelled over 4,300 miles on average. Growing nutritious food locally decreases the amount of “food miles” associated with the long-distance transportation of vegetables and fruits.[8] Less reliance on fossil fuels means healthier air for Montgomery County.
  • Lead to a plethora of economic and communal benefits. New urban farms will bring an economic boon to the county, creating more small businesses, local jobs, and a greater tax revenue for local government. According to the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, urban farming is an “integral part of the community food system,” “plays an important role in food system planning,” “requires local collaboration of local citizens and other stakeholders,” and “can be a valuable tool for economic development, environmental protection, and community development.”[9] Urban farms are also a great place for educational and entrepreneurial development, and have been shown to improve social networks and organizational capacity in urban communities. Even more, property values increase within a 1,000-foot radius of urban farms.[10]
  • Increase the health of communities. Risks for chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes can be reduced through a diet that incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables. Urban farming increases the health of communities by providing access to nutritious and fresh food, while also increasing opportunities for exercise.[11]
  • Reduce stormwater runoff. A major quality issue facing most modern cities is stormwater runoff. Stormwater runoff causes public health, increased flooding, erosion, and diminished aquatic habitat. In one study that took place in Philadelphia, greening vacant lots reduced the amount of stormwater runoff by 30 percent.[12] This could ultimately reduce pressure on the county’s stormwater systems while also increasing the water quality of local waterways.

Due to all the benefits associated with urban farming, several areas including Prince George’s County, Baltimore and Washington DC have passed bills designed to provide tax credits for urban farms. These cities are making it easier for residents to engage in activities that are known to be beneficial for the community and economy.

Please help make Montgomery County a more secure, sustainable and thriving community to live in. We urge your commitment and support of Bill 31-16.

Sincerely,

Betsy Nicholas, Executive Director

Waterkeepers Chesapeake & Fair Farms Campaign

 

[1] 99 Urban Farming Facts you did not know, Urban Vine (2016)

[2] Feeding the Cities: Is Urban Agriculture the Future of Food Security?, Future Directions International, Claire Corbould (2013)

[3] See note 1

[4] Baltimore Combats Food Deserts with Urban Farming Tax Break, Seedstock, Julianne Tveten

[5] A Tool for Creating Economic Development and Healthy Communities in Prince George’s County, MD, The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission

[6] How Urban Farming Can Transform Our Cities – And Our Agriculture, Think Progress, Adam James (2012)

[7] Globetrotting Food Will Travel Farther Than Ever This Thanksgiving, Worldwide Institute

[8] Urban Farming is Growing a Green Future, National Geographic, Brian Clark Howard

[9] See note 5

[10] See note 1

[11] See note 5

[12] The Environmental Benefits of Urban Agriculture on Unused, Impermeable and Semi-Permeable Spaces in Major Cities With a Focus on Philadelphia, PA, University of Pennsylvania, Knizhnik L. Heather (2012)

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