On February 26th Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding announced the opening of the 2020-21 PA Farm Bill’s $500,000 Urban Agriculture Grant Program to address food deserts in urban areas through the expansion of agricultural infrastructure. The program has the added intention of creating opportunities for hands-on learning and community building through the shared experience of growing fresh, local produce.

“In 2020 we saw the sad result of the reality of food apartheids as people in urban communities without access to fresh, nutritious food were disproportionately affected by COVID-19,” said Redding. “Nutrition and health – strong immune systems and susceptibility to disease – are inextricably linked. COVID-19 compounded upon years of lack of access to nutritious food and minority urban communities were hit hard by the pandemic.”

The release noted that two types of grants can be awarded: “microgrants” and “collaboration” grants. Microgrants of up to $2,500 in matching funds can be used for one-time projects or a single entity applicant. Collaboration grants (up to $50,000 in matching funds) “demonstrate cooperative or regional efforts which share resources, aggregate agricultural products or producers, promote the sharing of resources among agricultural entities, and support community development.”

One example of a project that benefits from the grant is First Light Project, which uses hydroponic technology on farms throughout Philadelphia to grow and sell leafy greens and herbs. They train and employ residents to “operate the hydroponic farm, address food insecurity, inspire the community, and support the local economy.” The project utilized their $37,884 Urban Ag Grant funds to offset the cost of a full-scale hydroponic farm in the Philabundance Warehouse. A number of ELCA Lutheran hunger ministries in the Philadelphia area have strong connections to Philabundance. When the development is complete the farm will employ five local community members, four high school interns, and is expected to produce nearly 100,000 pounds of fresh produce annually. Of this produce, the farm is committed to donating at least 10% directly to community partners to reduce food insecurity in Philadelphia.

The 2020-21 Urban Agriculture Grant Program application period runs from March 1st through April 16th at 5:00 PM. For more information or to apply, visit agriculture.pa.gov/pafarmbill.

“This pandemic has focused our attention on inequities, but it has also sharpened our focus on the important role urban and community gardens play in our commonwealth’s food system,” added Redding. “This funding for urban ag projects will strengthen the resiliency of urban communities across Pennsylvania and the food that grows from these projects will nourish those in need, together breaking down the walls of food apartheid.”

Our ELCA Social Statement on “Economic Life: Sufficient, Sustainable Livelihood for All” reminds us that community wellbeing is dependent upon the gifts of its members and the strength and resiliency of the projects they undertake.

“Instead of a top-down approach focused on a community’s deprivation and its lack of economic growth, effective community development draws upon its assets and emphasizes quality and diverse production. Effective policies build and enhance a community’s social relationships, values, and institutions, which together can further economic development. Local residents determine the future of their community by initiating, supporting, and sustaining new projects. Their capacities, skills, and assets help shape the vision and plan for the community.”

The Urban Agriculture Grant Program may be one such way that those interested in addressing hunger and supporting sustainable agriculture can create a strong and enduring means of doing so.

Leave A Comment