The Department of Agriculture is a big institution, with a $149 billion budget and 114,000 employees. When Secretary Vilsack asked me to spearhead the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, my first impulse wasn’t to create new programs and authorities, but rather to figure out how better to use the resources at hand. Of course, I was aware of certain USDA programs that have, for years, focused on local food, such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program within the Agricultural Marketing Service. I was also aware that Congress, as part of the 2008 farm bill, took new interest in local foods by, for example, directing that USDA set aside 5% of funding to promote local foods within the Business and Industry Loan Program in the Rural Business and Cooperative Service. Finally, I knew many existing USDA programs, while not dedicated to local food, could be harnessed to better support local and regional food systems.
This early thinking led to a series of informal memoranda to highlight programs within USDA agencies that are there to help. Members of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Task Force circulated these memoranda to colleagues via email. The idea is to have the information go viral…to alert old and new constituencies of how we see USDA programs fitting into the national effort.
So far there have been four memoranda covering: Rural Development Programs; Research, Education and Economics Programs; Farm Service Agency Programs; and, most recently, Agricultural Marketing Service Programs.
These memoranda are no substitute for reading detailed program descriptions as most of the programs highlighted in these memoranda have their own dedicated pages within USDA’s website. But they are USDA-at a glance for people searching to better understand USDA’s potential role in supporting local and regional food systems.
We will continue issuing these memoranda, winding through the many agencies within the People’s Department.