fresh foodSenators Middleton and Dyson have  introduced SB 586 that would establish a task force, including SMADC, to study a “Hub and Spoke Program” in Southern Maryland. Delegates Jameson, Bohanan, Murphy, and Wilson filed a companion bill HB 1019. This study would address getting fresh perishable, foods from local farms to the working poor here in our region, and would be a pilot for the state.

The bill would also look at what kind of financial incentives the state could offer to farmers, such as tax credits or a subtraction/modification on the margin between the cost of production and the loss of profit if farms were to donate or sell at minimal cost. SMADC has been doing research on the financial incentives portion already, and we have found 4 other states offering tax credits to farmers for this.

The Task Force would look at all of the entities that are currently involved (Food Banks, pantries, churches, farmers, etc.) and see how efforts could be better coordinated and what infrastructure is needed (refrigerated trucks, storage, drop-off sites, etc.).

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Volunteers harvest potatoes for Farming 4 Hunger

The bill was assigned to Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs and testimony on SB 586 was held on February 19th. Testimony began with Bernie Fowler Jr., Founder of the non-profit Farming 4 Hunger, who described the economic crisis caused by the Great Recession that began in 2007, and its effect on families in the housing trades. He said that he was moved to get involved in feeding the hungry, including the working poor. Last year, Farming 4 Hunger raised and donated over 400,000 pounds of food to local food banks and pantries with the help of local farmers and hundreds of volunteers.

John May, Senior Vice President of Operations at Maryland Food Bank, explained his non-profit’s relationship with Farming 4 Hunger and other farms in the state who are growing food for the hungry. He expressed his support for the legislation and noted how it relates to Maryland Food Bank’s efforts to provide fresh local food to the poor.

I was the third speaker. I mentioned the average age of farmers, the need for new farmers, and my observation that most new farmers are going into produce and meat production. They would to benefit from a food distribution system that emphasized fresh, local food. I was followed by Dr. Christine Bergmark, Executive Director of SMADC. She pointed out the national trends in spending less on food and more on health care, as well as the rise in obesity and diabetes. She discussed how regional food “hubs” can be used to collect local foods and distribute them via the “spokes” or transportation networks and how that distributes fresh food to those in need much faster than conventional modes.

Dr. Mindy Waite, staff with SMADC, reported on her research on how some states are already providing tax credits for farmers donating food for hunger populations. She specifically mentioned Arizona which recently passed tax law 43-1025 whereby farmers are eligible for a tax subtraction of 80% of the crop’s worth.

The panel concluded with comments from Brett Grohsgal, co-owner of Even’ Star Organic Farm. He explained that many farmers want to donate food but need to make a living too. He reduced his donations to a local food pantry when he realized that there is no tax deduction for his food donations.

The testimony was well-received and SB 586 is expected to pass. Testimony on HB 1019 is scheduled for March 1st at 1:00 p.m. in Environmental Matters. Those who may wish to testify should periodically check the site to see if the date and time for testimony changes.