HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - Today, Governor Josh Shapiro and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding marked Pennsylvania's sixth annual “Urban Ag Week" at York Fresh Food Farms in York County. 

The event is part of a statewide tour to help improve access to fresh produce in food deserts; break down racial, ethnic and socioeconomic barriers; and provide hands-on career inspiration and experience. 

The event highlighted company partnerships and state grants, like the Urban Agriculture Infrastructure Grant Program. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, the program provides funding as a reimbursement grant to eligible applicants seeking to improve urban agriculture infrastructure in Pennsylvania. Funded by the PA Farm Bill, the $500,000 Urban Ag Grant Program works to build out the infrastructure of urban agriculture by “investing in the system, filling gaps, encouraging entities to work together, finding ways to bring operations to a greater scale, overcoming food deserts, and opening opportunities for people to become social entrepreneurs.” 

“Since our first farm bill was signed, Pennsylvania has invested millions of dollars to support innovation in agriculture, including more than $2 million in urban agriculture alone,” said Shapiro, giving a nod to Secretary Redding for the program's success and participation with private companies, like the GIANT Company. “This program is so well run that even private companies want to get in on it. Think about that for a minute- private companies wanting to invest in government, it usually doesn't always work that way,” he added. 

“Too many Pennsylvanians live in communities where the nearest fresh food is miles away, and these grants will help communities tear down barriers, reverse a long history of poor nutrition, and fund new opportunities that can change families’ lives,” said Secretary Redding. 

Shapiro says the grants are working to connect Pennsylvania's $132 billion agriculture sector with hunger, especially in urban and rural communities. 

“We should not allow hunger to linger in the shadows. We should not allow people in urban or rural communities to wonder where that next meal is coming from,” said Shapiro. 

Officials say 1.2 million Pennsylvanians struggle to get enough to eat. They believe urban ag grants can not only reduce that number, but also help the commonwealth be a leader for the next generation. 

“I believe the next generation of agricultural innovation involves urban agriculture,” said Shapiro. 

Pennsylvania has invested more than $2 million in urban agriculture through the program since 2019. That $2 million investment has leveraged an additional $2 million in local matching dollars. In total, 113 projects in 19 counties across the state are expanding fresh food access in locations often served by a single convenience store.