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Bill proposes aid to help build more sustainable local food economy

A local system of producing, preserving, cooking and consuming food based in time-tested, more sustainable practices would serve the state in addressing issues of health, climate change and injustice, say supporters of the Headwaters Community Food and Water Economic Resiliency program.

Developing such a program is behind HF1332, which would help build infrastructure for a local food economy through the Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The program would offer technical and financial support for things such as plant and seed exchanges, aquifer restoration, crop insurance, transitions to organic agriculture, neighborhood food hubs, restoration of biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. It would encourage “the revival of food systems defined by cultures of Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color,” the bill states.

Sponsored by Rep. Kaohly Vang Her (DFL-St. Paul), the bill was laid over Monday by the House Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee for possible omnibus bill inclusion.

“The purpose of the program is to provide an alternative to the industrial food economy by establishing and maintaining a local and regenerative food web to address – in a sustainable manner – the challenges of food, water and climate,” Her said.

Marita Bujold, founder of Just Food and Water, said residents are stewards of a priceless ecosystem tied to Lake Superior, the Mississippi River and countless other lakes and rivers across the state. There is a connection between the health of nature and the health of people.

“We have a publicly funded food economy, just not the one we need to be good stewards,” Bujold said.  

Rep. Keith Franke (R-St. Paul Park) asked if the department is the appropriate place to provide affordable health care for every member of the food web such as farmers and drivers, which is a provision of the bill.

Franke also asked if a requirement of a financial subsidy to make fruits and vegetable affordable for all income levels would be in addition to other food subsidies.

Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) raised questions about provisions seeking rights of personhood for ecosystems and enhancing legal rights of nature. “This reads as if the law would give a tree more rights than an unborn child, and that does not make sense to me.”

The companion, SF1580, is sponsored by Sen. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) and awaits action by the Senate Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Committee.

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