Bill would give Missouri tax credits for urban agriculture and agriculture outreach programs | State News

(The Center Square) – A bill that would provide state tax credits for establishing urban farms in Missouri’s food deserts and creating an outreach program in those areas has received support bipartite.

Bill of 1919, sponsored by Rep. Kimberly-Ann Collins, D-St. Louis, would give up to 50% state tax credit for qualifying expenses when establishing an urban farm in a food desert. The bill would also require the Department of Agriculture to create the “Socially Disadvantaged Communities Outreach Program” to encourage activities to support and promote urban agriculture and provide education and job training related to food production.

When she introduced a similar bill last year, Collins distributed packets containing documents showing a large number of vacant lots in St. Louis where urban gardens could be created.

“In the city of St. Louis and urban areas, we can be part of the biggest industry in Missouri, which is agriculture,” Collins told the Farm Policy Committee during a hearing this week. “We have so much land and that doesn’t mean every patch of land should be a farmers market or a community garden. But these incentives could help us achieve equity in food and health.

The bill defines food deserts as a census tract with a poverty rate of at least 20 percent or a median family income less than 80 percent of the state average. The area must have at least 500 people – or 33% of the population – located at least a quarter mile from a full-service grocery store in an urban area.

Rep. Yolanda Young, D-Kansas City, who operates a small urban farming business, said the tax credit would be welcome and supportive.

“I won’t go into all the challenges, but they range from acquiring land to figuring out how you’re going to get your water, maybe a bit like some of our rural farmers who sit on this committee,” Young said. “But there are unique challenges that we face as urban farmers and it can be very expensive – almost unattainable – for a lot of people who want to do this.”

The proposed tax credit cannot exceed the taxpayer’s state tax payable in the tax year for which it is claimed. The maximum credit would be $5,000 for each urban farm and can be accumulated over three tax years until the full credit is claimed. The state would authorize $100.00 in credits and the program would end six years after its effective date.

Several leaders of non-profit and community organizations testified in favor of the bill and no one testified against it. Many shared personal stories of teaching young people how to use a shovel and others seeing a tomato on a vine for the first time. Most of the testimonies highlighted the need to improve the availability of fresh produce in poor urban areas.

“This will support community ownership of local systems, such as urban farms, farmers’ markets and community gardens,” said Fatimah Muhammad, executive director of Be Well Café and Farmers Market in St. Louis. “Environmental justice, behavior change, and exposure to adequate nutrition have the potential to suppress the development or expansion of food deserts.”

Steven Carroll, a lobbyist for St. Louis Public Schools and a former lawmaker who grew up on a 2,000-acre farm in northeast Missouri, testified on his own behalf for the bill.

“I think if more people in urban areas understood agriculture and we in rural Missouri understood the urban core better and their needs, I think Missouri would be a much better place to live,” said Carroll.

Committee Chairman Don Rone, R-New Madrid, praised Collins for the bill and promised a vote to withdraw the bill from committee as soon as the legislature returns from its spring recess on March 14.

“And if I were you, I would go to the other end of the building and start working on that side,” Rone said in reference to the Senate. “I don’t think you’re going to have a problem at that end of the building.”

About Keneth T. Graves

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