Minnesota’s legislative session came to a close on Monday, May 23rd, and while time ran out to negotiate many deals, the House and Senate did pass a bill that combined the supplemental ag omnibus along with investments in broadband access and an $18 million dollar drought relief package. Ahead of the vote on Sunday evening, Senator Torrey Westrom, Chair of the Conference Committee for HF 3420, said “This is a very good bill for farmers, for agriculture, and for rural Minnesota.” The bill cleared the Senate floor with a near-unanimous vote of 66-1. It passed in the house 69-64.
Funding for our LEAFF program was included in a provision for $827,000 in grants to support Emerging Farmers. Read the full bill text here, the provision for emerging farmers beginning at line 19.28. It was LEAFF farmers themselves, who shared in their own words, how much a program like LEAFF meant to them that helped get us across the finish line. Read what they had to say here (pdf).
“We see every day that investing in small and emerging growers builds vibrant and healthy communities. The impact of this funding cannot be understated; it ensures emerging growers fair market prices and provides hunger relief organizations with locally grown produce. From seed to the dinner table, this is a win-win for Minnesotans,” says Theresa McCormick, Executive Director of The Good Acre.
LEAFF would not have been included in the final bill were it not for the tremendous support of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and Vice-Chair of the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Representative Samantha Vang, who went to bat for emerging farmers over and over in numerous committee hearings and in conference. We also owe thanks to our friends at the Minnesota Farmers Union, Land Stewardship Project, Second Harvest Heartland, and the MinneAg Network for helping us to amplify the importance of the LEAFF program to legislators throughout this session.
Thank you to Representative Mike Sundin, Representative Samantha Vang, Representative Alice Houseman, Senator Erin Murphy, Senator Torrey Westrom, and Senator John Marty for your support and guidance through this legislative session and to Governor Tim Walz and Lt. Governor Peggy Flannagan for including funding for LEAFF in your supplemental budget recommendations in the first place. The LEAFF program began as a collaborative effort between our food hub and The Food Group, Loaves & Fishes, Hmong American Partnership, Latino Economic Development Center, Mill City Farmers Market Charitable Fund, and Lakewinds Coop. Thank you to our partners, to the folks at New Millenium Academy, and to everyone else who called, emailed, and reached out to legislators to support our cause.
Currently, over 50 farmers have applied to participate in LEAFF for the 2022 growing season. Funds for this program allow us to buy local produce at fair market prices from emerging growers and then donate it to hunger relief partners who operate statewide. We estimate that this season we’ll be able to purchase nearly $300,000 worth of produce, all of which will enter the hunger relief pipeline and be available to individuals and families facing food insecurity across the state.
While the passage of the ag, broadband, and drought relief package is a success to be celebrated, we know there is still a lot of work to be done. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture is already starting to plan for next year’s budget, there will be elections in the fall, and a new legislative session come January 2023. Despite being in the top 10 states with the most farms, less than half of 1% of the Minnesota state budget is allocated to agriculture. We look forward to continuing our work of advocating on behalf of the talented diverse group of farmers we partner with for policies that benefit farmers and invest in strengthening our local food system.
As we gear up for LEAFF to begin later this summer, stay tuned to our blog for updates on how the program is going You can also check the LEAFF page of our website for a live dashboard showing program statistics including the number of farmers participating, the types and amounts of crops going out, dollars spent, and more.