The Maryland State Department of Agriculture has allocated US$500,000 per year from 2024 to 2027 to help urban agriculture producers and nonprofits purchase and install irrigation equipment and increase electric power access. The Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Program and Fund allows urban farmers to buy equipment like water meters, irrigation hoses, and electric meters. These grants aim to help meet the food and resource needs of the community, according to Maryland State Senator Melony Griffith. She believes it’s important to equip small-scale farmers with the infrastructure of larger farms, as it will help involve different residents who were previously not engaged in agriculture.
Baltimore, the largest city in Maryland, has a population of over 600,000 people, with almost a quarter struggling with food insecurity, according to Baltimore County data. Urban farming has been expanding in the past decade in Baltimore, with 20 urban farms and over 100 community and school gardens now located in the city. However, high costs and lack of access to affordable, safe water in vacant lots present barriers to entry for many people interested in farming.
The passing of the Urban Agriculture Water and Power Infrastructure Grant Program and Fund represents a step towards achieving Baltimore’s sustainability goals to strengthen and amplify the local food economy. Abby Cocke, the Environmental Planner for the Baltimore Office of Sustainability, notes that Baltimore has a lot of gardens and farms that are on lots that were previously homes. She explains that often there is a water service available through the water meter pit in the sidewalk. However, farmers located on lots without water service or where houses were demolished are cut off from water service at the main line under the street, and that’s where they run into problems.
The grants will be a big help to urban farmers, according to Cocke, as they will provide infrastructure support that farmers currently lack. However, land tenure and land security remain the biggest issues to sustain urban farming operations. While funding is a barrier, land security can increase long-term access to urban farmland for farmers with insecure or short-term arrangements. Cocke hopes that the grants may help spur some of these important conversations about long-term land tenure.
The Maryland State Department of Agriculture expects to know how many people or entities can take advantage of the funds in 2024 and whether more funding is needed, or if tweaking the legislation will help people obtain the necessary equipment for water supply, irrigation, and electric power access.