Rivers, roads and rails—the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. Finding the best path forward can be difficult as city traffic gets worse each year, frustrating commuters and thwarting deliveries. Also in the transportation mix are farmers traveling the same roads trying to bring the freshest produce to city markets. With the $7 billion-per-year market for local and regional food continuing to grow, more and more goods are being transported along local routes.
Developing creative ways to navigate transportation challenges is critical for farmers and consumers alike to meet the increasing demand for local and regional food. Farmers relying on local and regional food systems may not have the scale or capacity to use established food freight systems. That’s why USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has taken a fresh look at food distribution issues, especially for the local and regional markets.
AMS, in partnership with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems (CIAS), hosted the Networking Across the Supply Chain Conference. More than 105 agribusinesses, transportation and local food specialists came together in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, to explore transportation and business innovations that could help bring regional food to regional markets. A summary of key conference findings are in a new report Networking Across the Supply Chain: Transportation Innovations in Local Food Systems.
Although the focus of the meeting was the Driftless region—the highly productive farm region of the upper Mississippi River valley—many of the same issues are present in other regions of the United States. The report provides actionable recommendations, including building robust and tight scale-appropriate supply chains and developing multi-modal transportation routes that could include things like light rail, short haul trucking and river routes. It also highlights the importance of building relationships and improving communication among partners.
These efforts are part of USDA’s commitment to support local and regional food systems. USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative coordinates the Department’s policy, resources, and outreach efforts related to local and regional food systems. Also Local Food, Local Places is a federal initiative that will provide direct technical support to rural communities to help them build strong local food systems. Secretary Vilsack has identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development.