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Six Women, Six Stories Connect on Local Food

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and White House Director of Public Engagement Jon Carson in a live Google+ Hangout

USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and White House Director of Public Engagement Jon Carson in a live Google+ Hangout

What’s the common link between eastern Oregon rancher Cory Carman, Oklahoma Farm to School Coordinator Chris Kirby, New Mexico Food Policy Council leader Pamela Roy, Muckleshoot Tribal member Valerie Segrest, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and Sue Noble, Director of Wisconsin’s Vernon Economic Development Association?

They all are inspiring women leaders who were featured in yesterday’s White House-sponsored “hangout,” which used Google + technology to allow viewers to see and hear from people around the country about their work on regional food systems. The event was held to celebrate the launch of the new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a digital tool from USDA that guides users through USDA programs that support local and regional food economies.

I was honored to  co-moderate yesterday’s Google + Hangout with Jon Carson, White House Director for Office of Public Engagement. I was also honored to hear the stories and learn from the expertise of the participants.

Sue Noble talked about how she was able to turn a disaster in her small rural community – the closing of a major manufacturing plant – into an opportunity by turning the abandoned warehouse into a food business incubator. It already houses three vibrant small businesses and they are looking for more.

Cory Carman, a 4th generation rancher in rural Oregon, spoke eloquently about her ranch’s successful efforts to market beef locally and about scaling up from farmers market sales to selling to major institutions.

Pam Roy celebrated the proliferation of food policy councils as examples of citizen engagement in shaping the food system.

Valerie Segrest recounted how local foods are rebuilding cultural traditions among Muckleshoot tribal members in Washington State.

Chris Kirby talked about how she overcame supply and distribution barriers to connect farmers around Oklahoma with local school districts, bringing more healthy, local food to kids.

And Mayor Rawlings-Blake described how Baltimore is developing local food production to increase access to healthy foods, and how other urban areas can do the same.

I was able to share the 2.0 version of the KYF Compass with the audience and encourage viewers to use it to hear more stories like these. I’m proud of how far we have come with this tool. Originally released in February 2012, the 2.0 version of the Compass guide contains new case studies of successful regional food projects, while our interactive map feature now includes data on food  hubs, farmers markets, meat processing facilities and more, as well as data on USDA-supported projects in all fifty states.  It is also searchable by key word and zip code, enabling users to zero in on the topics or regions that interest them most and see how USDA can help.

Although the event is over, the conversation hasn’t ended. You can watch the archived version of the virtual roundtable emedded below. Then, on Tuesday, July 24 at 1:30 pm EDT, we will continue the dialogue during an #ASKUSDA open office hours conversation on Twitter. What questions do you have about local food in your community? You can submit your questions on Twitter using the hashtags #ASKUSDA or #KYF2.

I also encourage you to read and use the KYF Compass – both the guide and the map – to learn more about how USDA supports regional food economies and how you can access our programs.

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