Local Food Receives Big Economic Boost from Federal Investments
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.
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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By Aaron W Hunter
A chance discovery of a beautifully preserved fossil in the desert landscape of Morocco has solved one of the great mysteries of biology and paleontology: how starfish evolved their arms.
The Pompeii of palaeontology. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<h2></h2><p>Although starfish might appear very robust animals, they are typically made up of lots of hard parts attached by ligaments and soft tissue which, upon death, quickly degrade. This means we rely on places like the Fezouata formations to provide snapshots of their evolution.</p><p>The starfish fossil record is patchy, especially at the critical time when many of these animal groups first appeared. Sorting out how each of the various types of ancient starfish relate to each other is like putting a puzzle together when many of the parts are missing.</p><h2>The Oldest Starfish</h2><p><em><a href="https://www.biorxiv.org/content/10.1101/216101v1.full.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Cantabrigiaster</a></em> is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. It was discovered in 2003, but it has taken over 17 years to work out its true significance.</p><p>What makes <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> unique is that it lacks almost all the characteristics we find in brittle stars and starfish.</p><p>Starfish and brittle stars belong to the family Asterozoa. Their ancestors, the Somasteroids were especially fragile - before <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> we only had a handful of specimens. The celebrated Moroccan paleontologist Mohamed <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.06.041" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Ben Moula</a> and his local team was instrumental in discovering <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031018216302334?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">these amazing fossils</a> near the town of Zagora, in Morocco.</p><h2>The Breakthrough</h2><p>Our breakthrough moment came when I compared the arms of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> with those of modern sea lilles, filter feeders with long feathery arms that tend to be attached to the sea floor by a stem or stalk.</p><p>The striking similarity between these modern filter feeders and the ancient starfish led our team from the University of Cambridge and Harvard University to create a new analysis. We applied a biological model to the features of all the current early Asterozoa fossils in existence, along with a sample of their closest relatives.</p>
Cantabrigiaster is the most primitive starfish-like animal to be discovered in the fossil record. Aaron Hunter, Author provided<p>Our results demonstrate <em>Cantabrigiaster</em> is the most primitive of all the Asterozoa, and most likely evolved from ancient animals called crinoids that lived 250 million years before dinosaurs. The five arms of starfish are a relic left over from these ancestors. In the case of <em>Cantabrigiaster</em>, and its starfish descendants, it evolved by flipping upside-down so its arms are face down on the sediment to feed.</p><p>Although we sampled a relatively small numbers of those ancestors, one of the unexpected outcomes was it provided an idea of how they could be related to each other. Paleontologists studying echinoderms are often lost in detail as all the different groups are so radically different from each other, so it is hard to tell which evolved first.</p>
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