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Local Food Receives Big Economic Boost from Federal Investments

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

On Feb. 29 the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a comprehensive report on its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, launched in 2009 to enhance coordination among federal programs that in various ways help to build local and regional farm and food systems.

“This is a very timely report,” notes Helen Dombalis, policy associate with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “The ongoing revitalization of regional farm and food systems depends on the continuation of key 2008 Farm Bill programs whose funding expires later this year if Congress does not act.”

The expiring farm bill programs range from Value-Added Producer Grants, which help farmers develop new products and markets while increasing their share of the consumer food dollar, to the Farmers Market Promotion Program, which helps create and expand venues for direct farmer-to-consumer sales of local foods.

Also up for farm bill funding renewal are the Rural Micro-Entrepreneur Assistance Program, National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers, Rural Energy for America Program, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and Specialty Crop Research Initiative.

“Congress should renew and expand funding for these innovative programs in the 2012 Farm Bill,” says Dombalis. “Local and regional agriculture is a major new driver in the farm economy. There are very significant emerging market and business opportunities, but major research, infrastructure, and technical assistance gaps need to be filled to reap the full benefit. We need all of the existing farm bill tools available in the future to grow rural jobs and to increase new farming opportunities.”

Several bills pending in Congress, including the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, include provisions to renew funding for these vital programs and to ensure our federal agriculture policy meets the needs of local and regional producers. Both bills are aimed at inclusion in the 2012 Farm Bill and have the support of hundreds of farm, food, and rural organizations nationwide.

Report Contents and the Compass

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’s primary goals revolve around better using federal resources to boost job creation through a modernization of local and regional farm and food economies. The report details a case study in northeastern Iowa where local food sales catapulted more than one thousand percent in just four years and another in Oklahoma where a group of producers are aggregating, labeling, and cooperatively marketing $70,000 worth of food a month statewide to create an extra income stream. Similar economic ripple effects to improve farm and rural income are found throughout the report.

Food access also plays prominently into the initiative’s priorities, which include programs to localize food processing and distribution in ways that reach underserved communities. The USDA Farm to School team has helped spur programs that have increased students’ fresh fruit and vegetable consumption by 25 to 84 percent, and Know Your Farmer has also coordinated research to support the development of new “food hubs” which facilitate growers’ access to local markets and fair prices.

Along with the report, USDA is releasing an interactive mapping feature called the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, which highlights accomplishments of USDA programs and success stories from across the country. The new Web-based tool will provide a visual, state-by-state display of projects and case studies that fall under the umbrella of the initiative.

The initiative does not have a budget of its own. Rather, it uses existing USDA programs and staff to better improve the Department’s response to the burgeoning farmer and consumer interest in regional food systems.

Dombalis describes Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food as “government at its best. Programs and services serving local and regional producers are scattered across USDA’s various agencies. The Know Your Farmer initiative helps drive vital coordination to improve program delivery.”

Both the report and Compass are available on the USDA's website by clicking here.

For more information, click here.

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The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities.

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