Expansion of community gardens discussed

Members of the Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 24 on a bill that would allow community groups to use vacant public land for community gardening.

A community garden is any public or private land upon which individuals have the opportunity to raise a garden and that they do not themselves own.

Under LB544, introduced by Omaha Sen. Burke Harr, state agencies and municipalities could permit community organizations to establish gardens on vacant public land. Harr said the bill would help address food insecurity in communities across the state.

“We discussed the benefit and need to encourage community gardens extensively [during the interim],” he said. “We should look at the ways the state and municipalities can encourage the development of these gardens.”

The state director of agriculture would establish a community gardens task force comprising no more than nine members, three of whom would represent nonprofit organizations involved with community gardens. The task force would identify and develop ways to encourage the expansion of community gardens.

The bill also would define seed libraries under the Nebraska Seed Law to include any nonprofit, governmental or cooperative organization that donates and receives donations of seeds with the promise of promoting seed saving, educating the public about seeds and providing access to free seeds.

Tim Rinne, state coordinator for Nebraskans for Peace, spoke in favor of the bill, saying the state should encourage citizens to grow more food locally.

“The farther we get away from our food supply, the more food insecure we are,” he said. “Not everyone will be interested in community gardening, but for those that are, we should give them the opportunity to do it.”

Community Crops Executive Director Ingrid Kirst also testified in favor of LB544, saying that available land can be difficult to come by.

“Studies have shown that community gardeners improve their health by increasing their intake of vegetables and engaging in low impact exercise,” she said. “There is a limit to how long private landowners will allow us to use the land for community gardens. That’s why [LB544] would be such a great opportunity for communities across the state.”

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.

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