YORK, PA — Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding recently toured gardens throughout the City of York and discussed the ability of farms in Pennsylvania’s urban spaces to stomp out food apartheid and build stronger, united communities with volunteers and management from York Fresh Food Farms and city officials.
“Pennsylvania’s urban gardens provide local families access to tools, space, mentorship, and valuable work that not only nourishes the body but feeds the soul,” said Redding. “We’ve made very intentional decisions to invest in agricultural infrastructure in city spaces across the commonwealth to break down the walls of systemic discrimination that have deprived communities in need of the necessary nutrition to thrive.”
Through the 2019 and 2020 Pennsylvania Farm Bill Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program, the Wolf Administration has invested $1 million in building infrastructure for food sovereignty and security in urban areas of the commonwealth. Amidst the pandemic in 2020, $10 million of Pennsylvania’s CARES Act dollars were dedicated to low-income, often urban, communities in a move to increase the availability, accessibility, safety, and affordability of nutritious foods and combat food apartheid through the COVID-19 Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI).
“We saw a need in this community and found the right people to grow this project and these gardens to meet that need,” said York Fresh Food Farms President Bruce Manns. “Now, we teach people how to grow their own food and eat healthy; we’re making nutritious food accessible for anyone who wants it.”
York Fresh Food Farms received a 2019 Urban Ag grant for $49,000; a Fresh Food Financing Initiative grant for $13,000; and a 2021 Urban Ag grant for $15,000. Funding from these grants has been used to drastically improve agricultural infrastructure on their farms and for their Mobile Produce Market, offer free home delivery for low-income York city residents, and implement a Farm to Pantry initiative during COVID-19 where food from York Fresh Food Farms and other local farmers were provided direct to York City Food Pantries. Since its inception during the pandemic, the Farm to Pantry program has provided more than 900 pounds of local pastured chicken and 10,000 pounds of fresh produce to the community.
Food production in cities – from rooftop or vacant plot gardens, to vertical or indoor farming – plays an important role in advancing food and nutritional security. Governor Tom Wolf’s historic Pennsylvania Farm Bill provided targeted investments that saw Pennsylvania’s agriculture industry and food insecure communities through the COVID-19 pandemic. The Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program – one program of the comprehensive package – works to break down walls in inequality while providing fresh, healthy foods in urban areas where access to food is limited while also exposing young Pennsylvanians to agriculture and the career opportunities held by the industry.
The 2019-20 Urban Ag Program funded 28 projects and the 2020-21 program funded 42 projects.
“The pandemic has made one thing abundantly clear: hyper-local food production is key to addressing food insecurity, especially in urban areas of the commonwealth where food apartheids are a sad reality,” said Redding. “Access to affordable fresh and nutritious foods is key to building healthy communities and that was the impetus of both the Urban Ag Program and Fresh Food Financing Initiative.”
The Fresh Food Financing Initiative was funded at $10 million through the federal CARES Act. For-profit, nonprofit, or cooperative entities including grocery stores, corner stores, convenience stores, neighborhood markets, bodegas, food hubs, mobile markets, farmers markets, on-farm markets, urban farms, and food aggregation centers with a direct connection to direct-to-consumer retail outlets were eligible to apply.
To be eligible, more than 70 percent of sales were required to be from staple, perishable foods to consumers and the retailer must serve customers who live in a low-to-moderate income area. Applicants were also required to demonstrate limited food access as a result of COVID-19 or that direct-to-consumer retail expansion is necessary due to lost or disrupted markets. Eligible applicants were required to accept SNAP and WIC or have plans to accept them through completion of the project.
The FFFI program of 2020 funded more than 100 projects to improve access to fresh food in low-income communities.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has also signaled its support with up to $4 million now available in grant funding for development of urban agriculture and innovative production projects. USDA is accepting grant applications on Grants.gov until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on July 30, 2021.
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.
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