ST. LOUIS — Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, listened to a program on National Public Radio during 2007 when he learned about the White Dog Café in Philadelphia, a restaurant that buys locally sourced food to promote sustainability. Holsman’s primary initiative is energy independence, but after learning about White Dog, he said he began to assess Missouri’s food independence.
“I looked around the state of Missouri and realized we didn’t have much in urban agriculture or local food networks or local food systems…I thought, ‘We’re not doing anything to become food independent and we’re basically dependent on the supply lines coming from the coasts to supply us food,’” Holsman said.
Then, he researched urban agriculture prospects. Holsman sponsored HB 1848 during the 2010 session to establish the Joint Committee on Urban Agriculture. During 2011, the committee held public hearings in Kansas City, St. Louis, Springfield, Jefferson City and Columbia to learn about the urban agricultural climates in those primary urban areas. The committee toured these cities to review the existing food security and agricultural efforts.
The findings during these trips were documented into the 156-page Urban Agriculture Report that identified agricultural, food and community issues. From that report, the Urban Agriculture Act was developed and passed in the 2012 session.
The act requires municipalities that grant urban agriculture zones also give the following incentives:
- Property tax abatement as long as the zone is in an area that is considered “blighted,” such as an abandoned building or vacant parking lot.
- Urban Agriculture Zone growers may pay wholesale rates for water usage on the designated zone.
- The bill states an UAZ trust fund must be established and about less than one percent of the local sales tax revenue from agricultural products to go into the fund. That money will go toward educational agricultural programming in schools.
A local food system, Holsman said, promote three key aspects:
- Improving the local economy because money is circulating within a community.
- Engagement with agriculture and food production. “You can see the food production, especially when we start doing indoor urban agriculture production on a commercial scale. You’ll be able to go and see your food being grown in a city,” Holsman said.
- Employment opportunities in primarily impoverished areas.
“This provides good jobs that can’t be outsourced. Kansas City citizens feeding Kansas City citizens means you’re putting Kansas City back to work,” Holsman said. “From the employment aspect then you have the pedestrian traffic which then reverses the blight. If you take an abandoned factory in a blighted area and you put 20 jobs in there, those 20 people need to eat somewhere. Those 20 people need a gas station. Then the next store turns around. That’s how you plant the seed of prosperity in reversing the blighting trend is by putting economic divisions into those areas…That’s why in the bill it says in order to be designated an UAZ it has to be a blighted area because the zone incentives are designed to rekindle, add oxygen to an area that needs to turn around.”
Because he’s from Kansas City, Holsman said he started working with Kansas City council members, staff, water department, economic development personnel, etc. to discuss the bill’s purpose. Now, he said, the city is developing “blueprints” in order for projects to begin. Holsman added two proposals have been brought forth for the Kemper Arena and expanding existing locally sourced food at restaurants on Kansas City’s Main Street.
“Nothing has happened yet,” Holsman said. “The pieces are moving on the board until the city is ready to start accepting applications.”
Holsman said Kansas City has the resources to go forward with UAZs and can act as an example for other cities.
“As soon as we’re ready to put together that blueprint the city will share that with other municipalities on how to essentially set up the process by which you get awarded a zone,” Holsman said.
Brittany Ruess is a reporter for The Missouri Times and the SEMO Times, and a graduate of Webster University. To contact Brittany, email brittany@themissouritimes, or via Twitter @brittanyruess.