Detroit farmer Jerry Ann Hebron has been chosen to serve on a new federal committee that will provide input on federal farm policies, identify barriers to urban farmers and promote urban agriculture, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced this week.
Hebron is executive director of the Oakland Avenue Urban Farm and North End Christian Community Development Corporation in Detroit’s North End. She said she wants to push the USDA to address the barriers facing urban farmers, such as their limited access to capital and programs designed for rural farmers.
“These are the issues that I bring to the table,” Hebron said. “I want to lift those up and see how we can work through these policies to make it more equitable for people of color, Black farmers specifically, but also for the urban agriculture community across the country.”
The Secretary’s Advisory Committee for Urban Agriculture is part of the department’s effort to support urban agriculture and diversity in agriculture. The 2018 Farm Bill directed the USDA to create the committee to help it develop policies for urban, indoor and other emerging agricultural practices, reach out to people who work in those fields and identify barriers to urban agriculture.
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack named 12 people, including other farmers, teachers, supply chain experts and economic development experts, to the committee. More than 300 people applied.
“Urban agriculture has been growing in impact and importance, and we are taking bold actions to build a support structure,” Vilsack said in a Tuesday press release. “I look forward to learning how we can better serve urban agricultural producers, which will complement our efforts focusing on equity, local food systems, access to safe and nutritional food and new ways to address climate change.”
Historically, the USDA has not done much outreach in communities of color, Hebron said, and has offered little technical support for farmers in those communities.
Many programs aren’t designed for urban agriculture, she said. For example, it is hard for urban farmers to get crop insurance because their farms are smaller than traditional rural farms.
“Does it matter if mine is only 3.5 acres of peas versus 100 acres of peas?” Hebron said. “I still can suffer economically from losing my crop to pest infestation or a drought season.”
In 2017, Hebron testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry during a hearing about the 2018 Farm Bill. She shared her perspective as an urban farmer in Detroit during the housing market crash, recession and city’s bankruptcy.
Growing fruit and vegetables on vacant lots allowed Hebron and other farmers to sell nutritious food to their neighbors, create business incubators and community meeting space, teach people to farm and provide jobs, she told the committee.
“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,” she told the committee in 2017.
Last week, Michigan U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow praised urban farmers and Hebron’s role on the urban agriculture advisory committee.
“Michigan has long been a leader in urban agriculture,” said Stabenow, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. “I’m so glad Jerry and others will be able to lend their expertise and wealth of experience to help grow this important sector.”