Dem proposes federal program to boost community gardens

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Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) on Tuesday proposed legislation setting up a federal pilot program to create new community gardens in poor areas of the country, a step he said would help offset cuts to the food stamp program made earlier this year.

His Community Gardening and Nutrition Act would require the creation of at least 40 community garden projects in urban and rural areas with high poverty rates. It would have volunteers from the AmeriCorps VISTA program organize this work and requires the government to report to Congress on its progress after 90 days.

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AmeriCorps VISTA is an anti-poverty program created by President Kennedy that became part of the AmeriCorps program in 1993.

"Community gardens have been shown to be very beneficial to the communities they serve," Hastings said Tuesday. "They improve quality of life, encourage self-reliance and reduce family food budgets — all while producing highly nutritious food for participants."

Congress agreed to an $8 billion cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which Hastings said makes his bill "even more important."

Supporters of the farm bill said the cuts were modest and are aimed at ending fraud and waste in the program. But many Democrats argued when it passed that it would leave millions of needy Americans with less access to food.

Hastings also said his bill would help increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables in poor areas, which he said would help reduce medical costs.

"A report released in August 2013 by the Union of Concerned Scientists concluded that, if Americans ate one extra serving of fruits or vegetables daily, there would be approximately 30,000 fewer deaths from cardiovascular diseases and $5 billion saved in health care costs in our nation every year," he said.