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Urban agriculture bills aim to grow communities

Tish Penny and her 3-year-old son, Ethan, testify before the House Agriculture Finance Committee April 5 in support of a bill that would establish an urban agriculture development pilot program. Photo by Andrew VonBank
Tish Penny and her 3-year-old son, Ethan, testify before the House Agriculture Finance Committee April 5 in support of a bill that would establish an urban agriculture development pilot program. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Choking up slightly and wiping away a tear, Tish Penny of Savage told the House Agriculture Policy Committee Tuesday how important supporting urban agriculture is for her family and her precocious 3-year-old son, Ethan Mason Penny, who already knows how to plant his own crops and can identify most varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Too shy to testify, her son explained afterward he had wanted to tell the committee to approve two urban agriculture bills Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls) sponsors. Both were laid over.

“I want him to learn from people like you guys, so he can be the next generation (of urban farmers) and teach his youth,” Penny said.

Urban agriculture covers everything from backyard gardens to high density food production in a city lot, according to the Department of Agriculture.

HF3324 is heard before House Agriculture Policy Committee 4/5/16

HF3324 would appropriate $20 million to establish the Urban Agriculture Development Pilot Program to award competitive grants to eligible communities, Native American tribal communities and nonprofit organizations to expand urban agriculture programs. Half of the funding would be required to go to projects in communities of color and Native American tribal communities.

WATCH Committee discussion of the bill on YouTube

Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls) sponsors the bill’s companion, SF3310, which awaits action by the Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.

Clark and Hayden also sponsor HF2818/SF2496 that would appropriate $3 million to establish the East Phillips Indoor Urban Farm, a year-round urban farm facility that would use a building in the East Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis.

The Senate version awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

Supporters argue the bills could help address income disparity and limited access to nutritious foods in underserved communities.

Minneapolis City Councilmember Alondra Cano, who represents the East Phillips area, said, “We think this is a successful way for our community members to break the cycle of poverty.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), the committee chair, said the bills could be excellent candidates for Gov. Mark Dayton’s legislative priority of addressing racial disparities.

After the meeting, Tish Penny said she overcame financial and personal hardships to help her son keep involved with her family’s strong agricultural roots.

Growing urban agriculture would help both her work with Project Sweetie Pie, a North Minneapolis urban farming nonprofit organization, and her dreams of eventually opening a catering service in Minneapolis.

“(My son) is teaching other kids (about farming),” Penny said. “He cares about helping to get money for his community. … It’s something that is important to him.”


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