The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a new initiative this week that will pump millions into programs connecting consumers with local food producers, a move USDA officials say will help stimulate the economy.
The campaign – Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food – is a national program to help develop and strengthen local and regional food systems.
“We are thrilled that the USDA is launching this initiative that raises the profile of local and regional food systems and takes the next step by including funding,” said Aimee Witteman, executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.
The money is being spread out among a number of different programs. One in particular allocates $50 million a year to allow schools to purchase local and regional foods. That is just one program in the series of new initiatives, Witteman said.
Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is designed to support local sustainable agricultural practices by:
• Funding outreach and assistance programs for disadvantaged and underserved farmers to the tune of $3.4 million. The programs will help farmers adopt new and direct marketing practices.
• Implementing a new system allowing certain state-inspected establishments to ship meat in interstate commerce, which is expected to create new economic opportunities for small producers, whose markets are currently limited.
• Awarding $4.4 million in grants to help local business cooperatives in 19 states and improve their appeal in the marketplace.
• Granting the Northwest Food Processors Association $150,000 to help strengthen the relationship between local food processors and customers in parts of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and find ways to reduce energy consumption, which is a major cost for food producers.
“We know when institutions purchase local foods, the dollars circulate in the local economies,” Witteman said. “This is important in rural areas where poverty is on the rise.”
The initiative, chaired by Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, will be implemented by a task force charged with improving the alignment of the USDA’s food systems efforts. During the announcement on Tuesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the initiative will improve the economy, environment and consumer health.
“An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture, Vilsack said. “Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food.”
Officials say measurable results from the initiative could be realized within a year. The USDA is encouraging people to join the discussion and share ideas about ways to support local agriculture. Visit youtube.com/usda for more information, and submit comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.