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Bringing Federal Partners to the Local Foods Table

Three years ago this fall, Secretary Vilsack and I launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2).  Since then, we’ve seen interest and participation in local and regional food systems grow beyond anything we expected: whether I’m meeting with buffalo ranchers from the Great Plains or with members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I hear about efforts to connect producers and consumers locally and interest in how USDA can help.

In meetings of the White House Rural Council, which has representatives from across the federal government, regional food systems have been a key part of discussions.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan, along with federal and local partners, in a commercial kitchen at the Center for Culinary Enterprise in Philadelphia. CCE is helping new local food businesses get up and running.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan, along with federal and local partners, in a commercial kitchen at the Center for Culinary Enterprise in Philadelphia. CCE is helping new local food businesses get up and running.

This, to me, is the most exciting thing: communities’ needs are diverse, and so are federal resources. USDA is not the only federal department hearing, and responding to, inquiries about regional food systems. They’re worked into planning grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Environmental Protection Agency helps communities turn “brownfields” into space for raised planting beds.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports local food as part of healthy eating efforts. And much more.

Now, you can learn about these resources on the expanded Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. Our interactive map now features local food projects funded through ten federal agencies. It’s not comprehensive – we will continue to refresh the data in future updates – but it’s guaranteed to spark ideas and help you find new resources to support your work. See what’s happening in your community; search for projects around the country by using the keyword search tab; or download the data to analyze it in other ways.

A few weeks ago in Philadelphia, I saw firsthand how communities are weaving resources together to build strong regional food systems. With partners from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Economic Development Administration, and the Philadelphia Mayor’s office, I visited The Enterprise Center (TEC), a thriving small business accelerator using local food demand to create jobs.

We started the morning off at Walnut Hill Community Farm, a project of TEC. The farm was built on land under a long-term lease from SEPTA, the local transit authority. Its farm stand and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program accept electronic nutrition benefits such as SNAP (food stamps) and have grown at an astounding rate – from 8 CSA shares the first year to 60 in the second.

From there, we headed down the road to The Center for Culinary Enterprises, another project of TEC. It features commercial kitchens, cold storage space, technical assistance and much more, all targeted to small food businesses. We met five local food entrepreneurs who now have access to resources they need to start up or expand.

The Center opened in September and projects creating 13 full time and 32 part time jobs, and at least 10 new food businesses to launch or expand as a result of having access to the facility. This will in turn create as many as 200 additional jobs in the first three years of operation.

TEC’s funding is as diverse as its projects. It includes a variety of foundation, private and public sources, including support from the City of Philadelphia, the U.S. Economic Development Administration, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Walnut Hill Community Farm project received support through USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program in 2010 to help with infrastructure, development and marketing. This is a prime example of federal, state and local entities coordinating to meet community needs.

I left TEC inspired by their vision for a comprehensive regional food system and by the goals that this work is helping them meet: job generation and small business development in a low-income area, healthy food access, sustainable land use. And I was inspired by how creative they have been in weaving together a variety of resources and putting them to work to benefit Philadelphia.

Check out the expanded KYF Compass map to see other examples and learn about federal resources you may not have known existed. What I saw in Philadelphia is only the beginning.

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