We are so excited and proud to have our Garden Manager, Nadia Mercer, speaking at a public hearing today in support of Bill 20-677! Bill 20-677, D.C Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014 establishes an urban farming leasing initiative, a nonrefundable tax credit for food commodity donations to a DC food bank or shelter, and a tax abatement for property leased for the purpose of small scale urban farming.
"Thank you council members Mendelson and Evens for calling this hearing to discuss the D.C. Urban Agriculture and food Security Act of 2014. I am here to testify on behalf of the Washington Youth Garden, about the importance of this piece of legislation, which has the great potential to establish processes in which privately owned and city owned land can be made available for agricultural use, whether that be for the purpose of commodity production, community gardening, education, or food donation.
The Washington Youth Garden, established in 1971, is the longest standing education garden in Washington DC. For 43 years the organization has been farming fruits, vegetables, and herbs on a one acre parcel of land in The US National Arboretum. The National Arboretum supports our work by giving our organization free use of the land, water, greenhouses, and other resources. The Washington Youth Garden welcomes over 4,000 DC area youth and families to engage in garden activities such as planting seeds, weeding, watering, mulching, and the best part, harvesting fresh food to make meals together that we eat together, at our garden in the National Arboretum, as well as our school gardens. Produce not used on site is given to families to take home and donated to Miriam’s Kitchen, a hunger relief organization. Each year we donate 700+ lbs of produce to MK. This summer, like the past 3 summers, we will also have 8 high school students working with us in the garden. We will teach them the how to grow food, how to educate younger students in the garden setting, and how to build garden infrastructure, like raised garden beds and cold frames for starting seeds, and of course we will harvest the food we grow for healthy meals and food donations.
I and The Washington Youth Garden community believe the D.C. Urban Farming and Food Security Act of 2014 will create more opportunities for our young people to participate in urban agriculture. Our summer internship gives students the knowledge and skills to work on other urban farms. But on what land can they work after they leave the Washington Youth Garden? This Act incentivizes private DC landowners to lease their land for agricultural purposes through tax abatements. This act also states that the Mayor shall identify twenty-five District-owned vacant lots that can potentially be used for urban farming ventures. Youth that move through our program could have a chance to contribute their skills on future DC urban farms that are created after the passing of this legislation. The Act also encourages urban farmers to donate a portion of their produce to District area food banks and shelters through giving tax credits. Imagine if we had 25 more urban farms donating 700 lbs each of fresh fruit and vegetables to food banks and shelters in our city. That’s 17,500 lbs of fresh food each year grown locally for our community.
One addition I recommend, on behalf of the Washington Youth Garden, to be included in this legislation would be incentivizing public and private landowners to give longer-term leases (10 or more years) to ensure urban farmer’ input of time and money was well valued. Speaking on behalf of an urban farm that was started 43 years ago, the soil is now so rich in organic matter that we can grow produce free of soil toxins and without the use of chemical fertilizers. Not only has the soil improved but the organization as a whole has grown in size, reach and impact over time.“
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