By: Michael Dahl
I am grateful for everyone who contacted their legislators with the goal of making sure everyone has reliable access to healthy, affordable, and safe food. Because of your hard work, vital programs were maintained (e.g. the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Market Bucks), some received increased funding (e.g. food shelves and the Good Food Access Program), and some new initiatives received funding (e.g. the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit). Yes, be sure to thank your legislators for stepping up, but right now I just want to tell you: “I’m grateful for your advocacy.”
I am also thankful for the work the Minnesota Food Charter Policy Action Team did with our advocacy allies to make these wins possible. A big shout out to Hunger Solutions, Partners to End Hunger, the American Heart Association and the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition, as well as the Central Minnesota Young Farmers Coalition.
Here are some more details on food and land-access related issues from this past Legislative Session:
The Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) was fully funded at $35 million for the next biennium. Minnesota diets, particularly those high in calories and unhealthy foods and beverages, contribute to surging health care costs and lower work productivity. This is not sustainable. SHIP works on preventing chronic diseases by strengthening the capacity of communities to create their own healthy future (e.g. Farm to School efforts, workplace wellness initiatives).
Market Bucks funding was renewed. Market Bucks match SNAP-EBT customers’ dollars (up to $10) at participating farmers markets across Minnesota.
Food Shelf funding was Increased. Food shelf visits rose during the recession and have stayed at or near record highs for the last 5 years. Reaching 3 million food shelf visits a year is the new normal. While less than asked for, food shelf funding increased by $375,000 a year for two years. This funding is for the purchase of proteins, fruits, vegetables, and diapers.
The Good Food Access Program received up to $500,000 for this next biennium. Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans currently live in areas where they have limited or no access to healthy foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, and lean meats and poultry. A range of community-driven solutions should be considered that will increase the sale of healthy, affordable food in areas of the state where better access to those foods is needed. The Omnibus Ag Bill included up to $250,000 per year for the Good Food Access Program at the Agriculture Commissioner’s discretion.
Historic Win for Minnesota Young and Beginning Farmers. In a first-in-the-country land access bill for young and beginning farmers, landowners receive a state income tax credit when they sell or rent land to a beginning farmer. The credit equals 5 percent of the sale price or 10 percent of the cash rent fee. In turn, the beginning farmer must take a farm management course to qualify for the tax incentive and would be eligible for a tax credit covering the full cost of training. The bill is effective for the 2018 tax year and is funded at 11 million dollars for the 2018-2019 biennium. The funds are available on a first-come-first-served basis and administered by the Minnesota Department of Revenue. The proposal received bipartisan and agricultural groups support.
Stay tuned for more details on Farm to School and legislation to increase farming in cities and larger towns!