The regular 2016 legislative session came to a close on Sunday, May 22nd. Despite efforts from many urban agriculture advocates, the Minnesota Urban Agriculture Bill (HF 3324/ SF 3310) did not receive any direct funding this session. In the House, the bill passed in both the House Agriculture Policy Committee and the House Agriculture Finance Committees, and was held over for inclusion in the House Omnibus Agriculture bill. However, due to House Republican leadership’s budget decision to provide no new funding to the House and Ag Committee, the Urban Ag Bill received no funding. In the Senate, the bill was heard in the Senate’s Policy Committee for agriculture, but was not given a hearing in the Senate’s Finance Committee for agriculture; therefore, it was stalled in the Senate.

To set the State budget, there is a Conference Committee composed of members of both branches (The House and the Senate). Because the bill did not pass in both branches, it was not reviewed by the Conference Committee. The Conference Committee has the discretion to review bills passed in only one branch, but did not choose to review the Urban Ag Bill.

There was a strong citizen-generated push to include this urban agriculture bill in the Senate’s list of racial equity bills. However, Senator Hayden, the bill’s chief Senate author, said he did not believe it qualified for inclusion because “it did not create jobs or promote economic development.” Advocates argued that the proposed bill included grant priorities for funding projects that create living wage jobs for urban farmers and increases food access and food justice- both important economic development investments in our urban and suburban communities. The bill also required that at least 50% of the funding go to low income communities of color and American Indian tribal communities. It was not included in the equity bill listing however, in an interview Representative Karen Clark, the House chief author of the bill, said the Senate “has not yet fully grasped how deeply urban agriculture relates to racial and economic inequities and disproportionate health disparities.” She stressed the importance of low income communities of color and Native American Tribal communities not only gaining much more access to fresh, healthy food but also being able to grow fresh and health food for ourselves, our communities, farm-to-school programs, and retail markets. She noted that there are also added incentives in the bill to help ensure that urban farmers could rely on the land they’ve developed to continue to be secured for urban farming. “It’s such a good investment in racial and food justice!”

Note: Senator Hayden advised Rep. Clark that, although there is no direct funding of Urban Agriculture programs this year, he thinks that individual organizations may be eligible to participate in a capacity building grant that the MN Dept. of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) received from equity funding this past session.  You can contact Rep. Clark for more information at 651.296.0294.

“We made an impact the first year by putting urban agriculture into state law and made an impact this year by helping more legislators to pay attention to how urban ag can help create economic and food justice” – Representative Clark

The 2016 legislative session was short and the tax and transportation bills were not finalized. This means Governor Dayton has the power to call a special one-day session in order to pass the bills. In regards to the potential for a special session, Representative Clark stated, “I haven’t totally given up on the idea that we could get some mention of urban agriculture issues still considered in Special Session, but it looks like we’ll probably need to wait until the next regular legislative session, after this fall’s 2016 election.” Along with all who were involved in advocating for the bill, Representative Clark is frustrated with the outcome of the session but continues to look on the positive side. She stresses the importance of everyone acknowledging the progress we’ve made, stating, “I think it’s important to say we’ve really just begun to start to pass this legislation. We made an impact the first year by putting urban agriculture into state law and made an impact this year by helping more legislators to pay attention to how urban ag can help create economic and food justice.”

From the beginning, the Minnesota Urban Agriculture Bill has a been a grassroots effort. Michael Chaney, the Founder of Project Sweetie Pie, has been involved in crafting the bill for the past five years. Chaney urged the Council on Black Minnesotans, now called the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, to embrace social justice and health equity through urban agriculture. Funding from the bill could help create a greenhouse in North Minneapolis that, as Chaney puts it would, “grow experience, skills, and leadership” within the community with an emphasis on the youth.

“I tell people all the time it doesn’t matter if we have points to sell to if we don’t have produce to sell.” – Michael Chaney

A greenhouse would allow for year round education and job opportunities. Chaney also stresses the importance of community members shifting from consumers to producers as part of food access efforts. He says, “I tell people all the time it doesn’t matter if we have points to sell to if we don’t have produce to sell.” Like Representative Clark, Chaney intends to continue fighting for the bill for as long as it takes, “We’ll be back. We’ll keep on fighting forward”.

“The unfortunate thing is we’ll have to ask people to show up again, but you know every time we’re able to do that, we’re able to demonstrate growing momentum” – Nadja Berneche

Nadja Berneche, the Program Director for Gardening Matters, has been very involved with the grassroots organizing efforts this past legislative session. Throughout the formation of the bill, seeking community input has been a priority. Berneche says the process has been, “a very different and important way to craft legislation. People can see how their voice can be heard in the political process. And they were never engaged before.” For next year she says advocates will have to be even more coordinated and organized to ensure everyone’s voice is at the table. Berneche states, “The unfortunate thing is we’ll have to ask people to show up again, but you know every time we’re able to do that, we’re able to demonstrate growing momentum.”

The Minnesota Urban Agriculture Bill has been in the works for five years and it is clear the many activists involved will continue to present the bill until it is passed. The support for urban agriculture in Minnesota is growing and the benefits to health, economic development, and racial equity are becoming more evident. Thank you to everyone who has been involved in the process. Even though the bill did not pass, we’ve made positive steps forward and demonstrated the strength of our communities. As Berneche says, “We need to continue to organize for that win. We can’t stop now. This is a campaign of the people; this is your campaign.”