New Bill Proposes Tax Breaks for Urban Farmers

Mayor Rawlings-Blake last week backed a bill promising tax credits for urban farms, the Baltimore Sun reports. The bill, which was proposed by Councilman Pete Welch, calls for a 90 percent property tax break for urban farmers who grow and sell at least $5,000 in fruits and vegetables a year.

Rawlings-Blake’s administration opposed a similar bill in 2011 on the grounds that it was not financially viable – the 2011 bill proposed a 100 percent tax break for urban farms over five acres – but says the newer bill is “needed,” as it “strikes the right balance between being fiscally responsible and creating the conditions for a stimulus effect for more … urban farms coming into Baltimore City.” The new bill removes the requirement that eligible farms be over five acres, making it easier for small neighborhood farms to succeed in low income neighborhoods.

The bill, if approved, could end up making a significant difference in the community. According to a July 2014 report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, urban farms provide multiple benefits. They provide:

  • Health benefits by improving access to fresh, organic produce and increasing fruit and vegetable consumption;
  • Social benefits by improving community relationships and encouraging healthy food education;
  • Economic benefits by increasing property values; and
  • Environmental benefits by reducing air pollution and transforming vacant lots into green spaces.

If the new bill could facilitate the expansion of urban farms in the city – which Rawlings-Blake’s administration hopes will happen – then Baltimore could one day see these outcomes, much like the other urban farming cities around the country.

New York City, for instance, has experimented with urban farms since at least the late 70s and is now considered a leader in rooftop urban agriculture. The NYC Department of Parks & Recreation’s GreenThumb program calls itself the “largest community gardening program in the nation” and provides support to over 600 community gardens in the city, at least 20 percent which are urban farms. In Detroit, urban farms have helped revitalize depressed neighborhoods – vacant lots have been transformed into sustainable neighborhood gardens, crime has reduced, and low income residents living nearby urban farms now have improved access to healthier food.

The outcomes are successful enough for an increasing amount of city leaders – Baltimore’s included – who now look to urban farms in developing and improving neighborhoods. D.C., San Francisco, and Sacramento are all considering similar proposals to Councilman Welch’s bill.

Overall, it’s a good move. Urban farms seem to be well-suited to Baltimore, and could potentially fill vacant lots, alleviate “food deserts” in low income neighborhoods, and improve the city environment by adding green spaces. With the right financial incentives, urban farms could very well increase across the city in the neighborhoods that benefit from them most. Hopefully, this new bill can provide the “stimulus effect” city administration is looking for and help the city achieve similar urban farming programs to NYC and Detroit.

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Gina Im

This article was written by Gina Im and edited by Steve Holt.

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