February 20, 2015
In a potential windfall for Maryland farmers and community food security advocates, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill that would give farmers a tax credit for donating their produce to eligible organizations. The credit would be for 50 percent of the food donation’s wholesale value (75 percent if the produce is certified organic) up to a total of $5,000 per farmer for the tax years 2015-2017.
The bill also re-establishes the Hub and Spoke task force, which was charged with implementing a program for improving fresh farm food access for working poor and low-income communities in Southern Maryland. Two of the primary partners behind Hub and Spoke, the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission and Farming 4 Hunger, work together to aggregate donated produce from local farmers at a central “hub” (the Farming 4 Hunger farm) and distribute it to people in need through “spokes” (Maryland Food Bank mobile drop sites and other food pantries at schools, churches, etc.). In some cases, farms and gardens donate directly to the spokes without going through the hub.
The Hub and Spoke program is already making strides towards increasing fresh food access in Southern Maryland. According to a report by the Hub and Spoke task force, Farming 4 Hunger helped the Maryland Food Bank to distribute over 70,000 pounds of produce donations over just two months (August and September) in 2013. This is significant, the authors note, because around 16 percent of Southern Maryland’s population was “food insecure” in 2011, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau. And in 2012, about one in seven families in Southern Maryland made just enough money that they didn’t qualify for supplemental nutrition assistance (SNAP) benefits, but they also didn’t qualify under the government’s “Self-Sufficiency” standard—meaning they often couldn’t afford necessities like food, and certainly not some of the healthier options available in Southern Maryland. The tax credit bill would be a boon to the Hub and Spoke program’s long-term sustainability because it is likely to encourage more farms to donate fresh food and feed more communities in need. It would also pave the way for similar programs across the state.
While the U.S. Farm Bill provides subsidies for “specialty crops” (fruits and vegetables) at far lower levels than commodity crops like soy and corn to the detriment of the American diet and health, the Maryland Farm Food Donation Tax Credit bill would reward farmers who grow produce. Thirty-five Maryland farms each donated an average of 15,000 pounds of fresh food to the Maryland Food Bank in 2013, for a total of over 500,000 pounds. If the bill had been enacted then, those farmers would have earned about $122,500 in tax credits, according to the 2013 Hub and Spoke report. The measure would also help to reduce on-farm food waste; Hub and Spoke has helped farmers who are unable to sell crops to move their product and put it to good use fighting hunger.
Public hearings to discuss the bill are scheduled for this Tuesday, February 24, and Wednesday, February 25, at 1:00 pm. If you live in Maryland and you’d like to comment but can’t be there in person, consider sending a letter or giving a call to the legislators below.
Letters to the House Ways and Means can be sent to:
Chair Delegate Sheila Hixon
131 House Office Building
6 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone: 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3469
Letters to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee can be sent to:
Chairman Senator Edward Kasemeyer
3 West Miller Senate Office Building
11 Bladen Street
Annapolis, MD 21401
Phone: 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3653
Image by Catherine Kastleman, 2015.