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Ruiz & Cruz-Perez Bills to Establish an Urban Farming Grant and Loan Program Advances

TRENTON Legislation sponsored by Senate Education Chair M. Teresa Ruiz and Senate Economic Growth Chair Nilsa Cruz-Perez that would establish an urban farming grant and loan program at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority cleared the Senate Economic Growth Committee today.

“Urban farming allows for city populations to have access to fresh and healthy produce.  This bill allows the state to invest in and grow this concept to expand access to healthy foods,” said Senator Ruiz (D-Essex).  “The transformation of cities and municipalities from only consumers of food to generators of agricultural products contributes to sustainability, improved health, and poverty alleviation.”

The bill, S-1875, would establish an urban farming grant and loan program at the New Jersey Economic Development Authority (EDA), in consultation with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education.  The program would facilitate the acquisition and maintenance of urban farming sites and support the provision of fresh produce and other agricultural products from these farms to public school districts for use in school cafeterias.

“Urban farming is a great way to bring neighbors together in times of need, and even increase organizing for other neighborhood issues,” said Senator Cruz-Perez (D-Camden/Gloucester).  “We have seen the power of community gardens to beautify neighborhoods, increase nutritional awareness, and help residents develop healthier eating habits.”

The grant and loan program would be available to New Jersey applicants who have contracts or will have contracts with school districts for the provision of fresh produce and other agricultural products.  Applicants would need to demonstrate their competence in urban farming and prove that they either already have an urban farm or have access to a viable site.  Loans and grants can only be used for the acquisition or maintenance of the urban farming site.

Urban farms have increased significantly since 2008.  Newark has become the headquarters for Aerofarms, an urban farming company that utilizes hydroponics in order to sustainably grow produce all year round, and then sell the food to local businesses.  Smaller scale urban farms have also popped up throughout cities and municipalities in New Jersey.  The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has a Farm to School Program that enables schools to partner with New Jersey farmers to source more than 100 types of produce grown in the Garden State.  Serving fresh produce in schools provides students with healthy food options and supports farmers.

Urban farms are changing the landscape of cities around the world.  Paris announced in 2016 it would turn a third of all its green spaces into urban farms by 2020.

The bill was released from committee by a vote of 4-0, and next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for further consideration.