Senate Ag Committee Hears Testimony on Urban Farming

Earlier this month, the Senate Agriculture Committee held a Farm Bill hearing in Frankenmuth, Michigan.

During that hearing, Jerry Ann Hebron, a Farmer and the Executive Director of Northend Christian CDC from Detroit indicated that, “In fact a December 2009, article in the Detroit News suggested the true unemployment figure in the city [Detriot] might be as high as an astounding 50 percent. Couple that with the estimated 80,000 residential housing units needing demolition, and the city’s 20 square miles of total vacant land (roughly equal to the size of Manhattan). What you get is the need for creative paths forward like Oakland Farm Way.

“This is how I started our farm, the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm which is located in the Historical North End Community and a commitment to growing food, educating our community, and creating opportunities for economic development.”

Ms. Hebron noted that, “When we started farming in 2009 the neighborhood was not safe. It was filled with vacant lots and houses, poor quality grocery stores, a liquor store on every corner selling greasy food and pizza slices. These bridge card SNAP eligible stores offered poor quality and limited amounts of fruit, bread, milk, and some canned goods, which were often on the shelf with expired date labels. People in our community were shopping at the liquor stores for the unhealthy food choices because there was no other options. To respond to this, we started growing a variety of vegetables that were culturally appropriate for our community (green beans, collards, tomatoes, peas, spinach, squash, cabbage, cucumbers, mustard greens, turnip greens, sweet potatoes, okra, onions, garlic and a variety of herbs.

“In 2011, we started adding fruit: strawberries, raspberries and pears. In the same year, we opened our farmers market on the farm and started selling at six Chrysler Plants. In order to meet the demand of these farmers market, we had to increase our production so we purchased more land for production. We are now planting more fruit trees to increase our fruit production. We have included apple, peach, more pears and cherry. This fruit production will add to our food consumption and increase the opportunities for value-added production, including our line of AFRO Jams, so we can increase sales. We can use USDA Value-Added Producer grants but need additional access to other financing tools to help us get these products to the shelf.”

In her testimony, Ms. Hebron also explained that, “What is needed now to grow these businesses is access to more USDA funding for crop insurance, low interest loans for equipment and integrated farm business development, and infrastructure improvements for water.

Urban Agriculture is a great environment to work and grow skilled workers who traditionally have been denied employment because of a background check or drug problem. On our farm we work with people where they are and what we find is our environment is one in which we are able to train people basic employment skills. We have been able use our production sales to hire people in the community as seasonal workers at minimum wage and we recently started a tree fruit growing initiative to train our farm workers on how to grow fruit trees and manage largescale farm equipment, giving them specialty skills and machine training. The farm work is transformative spiritually, environmentally and skillfully. People are learning how to plan, how to grow food which results in them eating better, how to deal with plant pests using organic practices and professional development opportunities.”

Ms. Hebron pointed out that, “The 2018 Farm Bill is important to Urban Agriculture because it could create opportunities for urban growers that we currently do not have.”

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