One very important reason for Congress to expedite work toward a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is to continue today’s rapid growth in local and regional marketing opportunities for American agriculture.
From local farmers markets to regional food hubs, these new opportunities benefit a wide range of Americans from all walks of life.
They benefit farmers and ranchers who are looking to start selling locally or scale up to regional sales. Farmers markets and regional food hubs have a particularly positive impact for small and limited-resource producers. Sales of local foods are growing rapidly, creating a multibillion-dollar market opportunity for producers.
Local markets also have an impact on our work to bring folks into the business of agriculture. As the average age of the American farmer increases, we need more new folks on the farm. Local and regional markets help these new farmers – who include returning veterans, immigrants and more women than ever before – get started and sell their product.
American families interested in buying local benefit as well. Under the Obama Administration, we have helped to create more than 2,800 new farmers markets that give families additional options in buying local foods. In many areas of high poverty, low food security or limited access to healthy, fresh produce, farmers markets provide low-income parents with an important way to put healthy food on the plate for their families.
By more than doubling the availability of EBT technology in farmers markets – and supporting more than 450 projects to help farmers markets expand and grow – USDA has focused on amplifying these benefits for families.
Schools and school districts are working harder than ever to source their food locally and provide healthy meals at school – ultimately benefiting our young people. Across the nation, USDA is working with school districts under our Farm to School program, helping districts establish relationships with producers. During the 2011-2012 school year, school districts purchased and served more than $350 million in local foods – and that number is set to grow as we undertake even more efforts to support Farm to School projects.
To help show the rapid growth of the local food market across the nation, USDA created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass – an online tool illustrating the many places USDA has supported these opportunities nationwide.
Local and regional marketing opportunities hold great promise for folks across the nation. They’re helping our producers grow and thrive. They’re bringing fresh foods to underserved areas. They’re helping our kids get good nutrition at school. USDA intends to continue our record support for these markets – but to do so, we need a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible. A new Farm Bill would enable our continued efforts to expand farmers markets and food hubs, while expanding healthy food access for low-income Americans and kids in our schools. All of these efforts would benefit the rural economy, while helping to achieve new opportunity in agriculture in the years to come.