Ensuring Food Access


Originally posted in The Rawlings-Blake Review, Issue #186

Earlier today, I announced the release of a new Prequalification Application for the Homegrown Baltimore Land Leasing Initiative, a partnership of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability and the City’s Department of Housing & Community Development. The initiative helps experienced farmers who are interested in creating nonprofit or for-profit urban farming ventures to lease vacant parcels of City-owned land. The newly released application builds on a 2011 pilot, which has already resulted in the execution of two urban farm leases covering three acres of City-owned land. Approximately 20 additional acres of vacant land are anticipated to be leased to farmers in the next 10 years. The new application will be open indefinitely, and farmers may apply at any time.

This announcement follows the adoption last month of Homegrown Baltimore: Grow Local, Baltimore’s Urban Agriculture Plan, which serves as a road map for the future of agriculture in Baltimore City. The plan offers history and context, and gives 25 detailed recommendations on how to effectively provide the land, water, soil, and access to capital that farmers need to continue to transform vacant land into valuable assets.

We have implemented a comprehensive plan that will guide our efforts to develop a local food system, support food production & food access in the city, and help revitalize Baltimore's communities through farming. With my Get Fresh initiative, we are also making great strides in improving access to local, affordable, and nutritious foods in Baltimore’s public markets.

Our public markets are some of the oldest and best in the nation, and they have been a priority for my administration. We have completed major renovations at the Avenue Market, Broadway Market, and just this week, Northeast Market.

The Northeast Market renovation focused on improvements that are visible, helping to change the perception of the market and encourage addition investment. But we also made some changes to promote healthy lifestyles. Ten vendors have agreed to participate in the Get Fresh initiative by putting green leaf labels on their menus to indicate healthier items. The market has also constructed a new day stall, which will be used for health & nutrition education, health screenings, and other health programs.

Considering the significant progress Baltimore has made for urban agriculture and food access, it is critical for Congress to pass a farm bill that will do the same. If Congress is unable to reach an agreement on a new bill that will support local foods, small & beginning farmers, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by December 31, growers and consumers will be significantly impacted.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office rated an increase in SNAP benefits as one of the two most cost-effective methods for boosting growth and jobs when the economy is weak. In 2012, SNAP kept nearly 5 million Americans out of poverty, including 2.2 million children. In More than 30 percent of Baltimore’s residents receive SNAP benefits—approximately 190,000 people. The farm bill has real consequences for families struggling to put food on the table, and time is of the essence.

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