If there is one word that best embodies agriculture, it is entrepreneurship. Over the course of my time at USDA, I’ve had the chance to meet with farmers, ranchers and food business of all sizes and in all parts of the country. The faces of these entrepreneurs and their innovative strategies and business models reflect the diversity that makes this country strong. Each year, USDA helps thousands of agricultural producers and businesses enhance their marketing efforts and bring healthy, nutritious food to communities– and I’m excited that this week, we’ve announced another opportunity to support their work.
My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), announced the availability of more than $27 million in grants to help ensure the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers and ranchers while strengthening rural economies. The announcement included $26 million in AMS grant funding from the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program through the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP).
There is also nearly $1 million available from the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) through matching grants with state departments of agriculture, colleges or universities. These funds will support research projects to address challenges and opportunities in marketing, transporting, and distributing U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.
We see the benefits from these USDA efforts with impacts in places like Ajo, Arizona. This rural town has a population of about 3,300 people and is a long distance from traditional food retail shopping centers. In 2014, the Ajo Center for Sustainable Agriculture received an FMPP grant to transform the Ajo Farmers Market into a business incubator for the community. With their community partners they hosted weekly workshops for farm vendors. The workshops covered food production, food safety practices, processing, packaging, marketing, advertising, and the effective use of social media.
The overall project tripled the number of Ajo Farmers Market vendors from 13 to 39, substantially increasing the capacity and skills of local and regional growers. Vendors included wild food harvesters as well as traditional products such as eggs, flower, and honey. During the winter, customers more than doubled from 150 to between 300 and 400 per market day. More outreach to Native American growers in the nearby Tohono O’odham Reservation helped market expansion by offering indigenous crops from the region.
Over the past 10 years, the FMPP has awarded more than 870 grants totaling over $58 million. These efforts have been highlighted in the report, Farmers Market Promotion Program 2016 Report (PDF), demonstrating how USDA is helping create economic opportunities for producers by supporting local and regional projects like these that increase access to fresh, healthy food for rural and urban communities. All of these grants work together to help communities maintain their agricultural heritage and strengthen the local economy.
For more information about USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems and rural America, check out the USDA Medium Chapter: New Markets, New Opportunities: Strengthening Local Food Systems and Organic Agriculture.