Meet the Woman Who Helped Maryland’s Food Donation Tax Credit Become a Reality
October 24, 2017
New Pilot Program “Just Makes Sense”
This fall, a new Maryland pilot program giving farmers a tax credit for donated produce quietly went into effect. Years in the making, the Food Donation Tax Credit Pilot Program is an exciting initiative that supports local farmers, reduces food waste, incentivizes organic farming, and fights hunger. Fair Farms testified in support of the program during Maryland’s 2017 General Assembly.
Farmers from select counties in Maryland (Anne Arundel, Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s, and St. Mary’s) are now eligible to receive a tax credit for donated produce of up to $5,000 per calendar year. Of note, organic farmers are able to receive a credit worth 75% of the value of their donated produce, in comparison to 50% for conventional produce.
Fair Farms friend Dr. Christine Bergmark was a champion of this new pilot program. From idea development to crafting the policy to building up a broad coalition of groups, this outstanding advocate helped the bill cross the finish line and become a reality. Dr. Bergmark has more than 25 years of experience working in research, education, and development, both nationally and internationally. She is also one half of Even’ Star Organic Farm, a 104-acre farm located in St. Mary’s County growing diverse crops and focusing on building healthy soil, supporting biodiversity, and providing nutrient-dense food for their local community and beyond.
Below, Dr. Bergmark answers a few questions about this exciting new program.
When and why did you first begin working on creating a food donation tax credit?
Access to healthy, fresh food has always been a priority for me. It seemed crazy that nutritious fruits and vegetables that were surplus or had a little blemish were often left in farmers’ fields, while there was and is a growing food-insecure community. We wanted to find a way to compensate farmers to pick, pack and deliver these “seconds” to nearby pantries and distribution centers, thereby creating a win-win-win (win for farmers and the local economy, a win for public health, and a win for the environment).
At the request of Maryland Senator Thomas ‘Mac’ Middleton, a task force was formed to study the needs and opportunities in 2014. The task force consisted of elected officials, farmers, anti-hunger groups, the Comptroller’s’ office and the Secretary of Agriculture. It seemed like we met with just about everyone in the region, including public health officials, school superintendents, farmers, the hunger community and so on. We collectively crafted a bill that, although a compromise, satisfied all parties. It was introduced for consideration that year, and even though we had tremendous support from both the Senate and the House each time we testified, it got stuck in sub-committee for the first two years. Finally, in its third year, with simplified language and the addition of Montgomery County, it passed.
What was the thought process behind having a higher tax credit rate for certified organic produce?
Organic produce is riskier to produce, and typically fetches a higher retail price than conventional produce. The tax credit is based on weekly wholesale market prices, which were only available for conventional produce, thus the compromise was to compensate farmers 50% for conventional produce, and 75% for organic produce.
What lessons from this successful effort do you think can be applied to other initiatives to improve our regional food system?
Patience, persistence, and passion, as well as making sure all the stakeholders are included in the discussions, are keys to success!
How would you like to see this program expanded when it hopefully moves past the pilot stage?
Delegates from other regions of the state have asked to have the reach of the bill extended beyond the initial five counties. I would love to see it become both state and nationwide. It benefits everybody, for a minimal cost, and it just makes sense!
For more information on this program, please contact Karen Kirksey with the Maryland Department of Agriculture, firstname.lastname@example.org.