Meet Sen. Borris Miles: Texas agriculture’s urban champion
Thankfully in a state where few legislators today come from agricultural roots, some urban lawmakers not only understand agriculture, they are its champions. One of those is Sen. Borris Miles (D-Houston), whose work on behalf of agriculture in both the Texas House and Senate over the years earned him honors as “Urban Agriculture Leader” by Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
TAD recently asked Sen. Miles a few questions so our members could get to know this agriculture advocate from our state’s biggest city which is the fourth largest in the nation.
As a member of the Texas House, you served one session on the Agriculture Committee. Now, as a senator, you have a seat on the Agriculture, Water and Rural Affairs Committee. As an urban-based legislator, what draws your interest to these subject areas?
Urban agriculture contributes to food security by increasing the amount of food available to people living in cities. It also allows fresh vegetables, fruits and meat products to be made available directly to underserved urban consumers, which would help combat the urban food desert problem.
In the Houston area, several neighborhoods I represent are food deserts, where residents do not have access to fresh foods. When I first came to the Legislature, this became one of my priorities because I wanted these communities to have more healthy food options.
I have asked to be on the Agriculture committees in the House and Senate because the school nutrition programs fall under their jurisdiction. For many children, the food they get from their school meals are the only nutritious meal of the day. I have supported bills to encourage school districts to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables. This year I am authoring a bill to allow schools to donate their excess food to non-profits to help feed the hungry.
We have read that, as a child in Houston, a lack of available fresh produce made you aware of the role of agriculture. Can you tell our readers about that?
I grew up in a part of Houston called Sunnyside, which did not have nearby grocery stores. As a result, fruits and vegetables were something that often came frozen or from a can. For myself and many of my friends, we had parents and grandparents who moved to Houston from rural Texas. So it was ironic that although many of us were only one generation removed from an agricultural life, fresh fruits and vegetables and where they came from were something foreign.
TAD’s dairy producer members, obviously, are focused on rural-based agriculture. What role do you believe urban agriculture also plays in our state?
Urban agriculture will never take the place of the rural farms and ranches in our great state. Community gardens allow urban residents to grow their own fresh produce and provide opportunities to educate city kids about how their food is grown. Urban farms are able to grow produce for people and restaurants that want and are willing to pay a premium for the locally grown food.
The rise of urban agriculture has gone hand in hand with the proliferation of farmers markets in Texas. These farmers markets have provided a market not only for urban agriculture, but also for smaller farms in rural Texas. I think urban agriculture complements our traditional agricultural producers.
Tell us about your Senate Bill 1983, which would create the Texas Urban Agricultural Innovation Authority, and Senate Bill 1984, which would create an urban farming pilot program and the Select Committee on Urban Farming.
Both of these bills would help expand urban agriculture in Texas.
SB 1983 would promote the creation and expansion of certain urban agricultural projects. It also will create the Urban Farmer Interest Rate Reduction Program to provide reduced interest rate loans to urban farmers.
SB 1984 would create the urban farming pilot program within the Texas Department of Agriculture to provide grants to urban farmers to establish new urban farms and expand existing urban farms.