Rep. Harper Supports Urban Agriculture and Safety with Passage of New Bills

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May was an exciting month for urban farming thanks to the passage of several bills by the Illinois legislature. In one week, the Illinois House and Senate passed four bills - yes four - that support equitable urban farming in the state. The Agricultural Zones (HB 3418), Socially Disadvantaged Farmers (HB 4234), Healthy Food Incentives Fund (SB 2588/HB 4568), Pedestrian and Bike Safety (HB 4799) bills were all sponsored by Rep. Harper. All were passed by both the house and are awaiting the governor's signature.

Urban farming advocates have been congratulating each other for weeks! And we could not be more proud of Grow Greater Englewood’s own, Rep. Sonya Harper - who seeded urban agriculture and healthy food initiatives as former Executive Director of Grow Greater Englewood (GGE). As Rep. Sonya Harper explained on social media:

A couple years ago I didn't know why God had this single mom and former journalist working on an urban farm in West Englewood but now I know it was to be able to one day educate lawmakers about food deserts and to propose common sense solutions to eradicate them...So grateful to all my colleagues, advocacy organizations, non profits, farmers and all those who are part of our new coalition for increasing opportunities for #UrbanAgriculture in #Illinois.”

These bills will provide more direct funding and resource management to farmers and low-income families in Illinois. The safety bill will extend safe passage programs to bikes and help to strengthen the value of the Englewood Trail - a walkable and rideable thoroughfare in the heart of Englewood. Many community stewards, policy leaders, political officials, farmer, and advocates have worked for years to push the Illinois legislature towards more comprehensive and balanced policy that invest economically and equitably in urban agriculture. And these bills do just that.

Liz Moran Stelk, Executive Director of the Urban Stewardship Alliance said, “these bills support farmers, keep money in the Illinois economy, and make wholesome locally-grown food more affordable and accessible.” In addition, Rodger Cooley, Executive Director of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council explained just how integral Rep. Harper was in the passage of HB 3418.

“Representative Sonya Harper and Senator Mattie Hunter’s leadership were invaluable for getting this important legislation passed. HB3418 will help open doors for urban farmers to supply healthy foods, grow valuable jobs, and revitalize land in communities needing extra support.”

Agricultural Zones Bill (HB 3418)

  • Provides that a county or municipality may create an urban agricultural zones (UAZ) composed of organizations or persons who grow produce or other agricultural products; who raise livestock or poultry; who process livestock or poultry; or that sell a minimum of 75% locally grown food

  • Provides for the creation of a UAZ board to advise the county board, county board of commissioners, or corporate authorities of a municipality on UAZs

  • Provides for UAZ application requirements, including the number of jobs to be created, the types of products to be produced, and if applying for a vending UAZ, the ability to accept food stamps under the provisions of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program if selling products to consumers

  • Provides for county and municipal public hearing and notice requirements before adoption of an ordinance to establish a UAZ

  • Provides that property taxes on property located within a UAZ shall not be increased, if so provided in the UAZ ordinance, for a period of up to 25 years

  • Provides that sales tax amounts received from the sale of agricultural products sold in a UAZ shall be deposited in the Urban Agricultural Zone Fund and specifies distribution to the county, municipality, or school districts under specified circumstances

  • Allows for wholesale water rates and a reduction in water connection charges for property in a UAZ

  • Amends the State Finance Act making conforming changes

Socially Disadvantaged Farmers (HB 4234)

  • Creates the Farmer Equity Act

  • Provides the the Illinois Department of Agriculture takes socially disadvantaged farmers (women farmers and farmers of color) into account when making policies

  • Disseminates information regarding state and federal assistance programs

Healthy Food Incentives Fund (SB 2588/HB 4568)

  • Creates a statewide fund that allows farmers markets across Illinois to provide SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) Match programs at their markets

  • SNAP Match programs double the purchasing power of low income families, helping them afford fresh, wholesome fruits and vegetables, while also putting SNAP dollars back into the hands of small family farmers instead of big box stores

Pedestrian and Bike Safety (HB 4799)

  • Protecting youth and promoting health through safe biking and walking education

In a recent article by Katherine Newman with the Citizen, Rep. Harper shared her thoughts on next steps now that HB 3418 passed:

“The next step is continuing to figure out how we create, grow, and sustain local food businesses especially in those areas of the state that are lacking fresh and healthy foods,” said Harper. “Many legislators have asked me to come to their district and talk about this because they have the same problems.”

Elisha Hall