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USDA Programs at a Glance

The Department of Agriculture is a big institution, with a $149 billion budget and 114,000 employees.  When Secretary Vilsack asked me to spearhead the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, my first impulse wasn’t to create new programs and authorities, but rather to figure out how better to use the resources at hand.  Of course, I was aware of certain USDA programs that have, for years, focused on local food, such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program within the Agricultural Marketing Service.  I was also aware that Congress, as part of the 2008 farm bill, took new interest in local foods by, for example, directing that USDA set aside 5% of funding to promote local foods within the Business and Industry Loan Program in the Rural Business and Cooperative Service.  Finally, I knew many existing USDA programs, while not dedicated to local food, could be harnessed to better support local and regional food systems. Read more »

The Shenandoah Valley Beef Initiative – Adding Value and Access to Local Markets

Last month we were proud to announce awards for the Value-Added Producer Grants program.  Managed by USDA’s Rural Development, this program has had nearly a decade of success in helping producers capture more value for their agricultural products by producing, processing, or marketing their product in a way that enhances the value or expands the customer base for that product.  Supporting this type of activity also creates new jobs, contributes to economic development, and enhances consumer food choice. Read more »

The Maryland Challenge

Last week I joined Governor O’Malley and Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance for a cook-out at the Governor’s House in Annapolis, Maryland.  What a blast!  Along with 300 other guests, I sampled wonderful local foods prepared by 19 farmer-chef teams who were the winners in a state-wide recipe contest that showcased their creativity and locally grown and raised foods.  It was great to visit with the winning farmers and dozens of others who were on hand to support local and regional agriculture.

Kathleen Merrigan with a local chef and Anthony Geraci, Food Service Director for Baltimore City Public Schools

Kathleen Merrigan with a local chef and Anthony Geraci, Food Service Director for Baltimore City Public Schools

I know that Governor O’Malley is a strong supporter of Maryland’s farmers and ranchers.  But it was downright inspiring to listen to him as he took the stage to issue a challenge: during this week, buy local challenge week (July 17-July 25), he asked that every Maryland citizen eat at least one locally grown food item each day.  Having stopped earlier at Councell Farms roadside stand in Cordova, Maryland, I am well on my way to meeting his challenge.  And with over 100 farmers markets in Maryland and an increasing number of retailers selling local produce, it is difficult during sweet corn and tomato season to miss all the opportunities to buy local. Read more »

What is “Local” Food?

Anyone who has shopped at a farmers market can appreciate the freshness of the food, the interaction with farmers, and the opportunity to learn how the food was produced. As an economist with the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), I’m also interested in what local food systems look like in the United States and how locally grown food products are delivered from farms to consumers. ERS recently published two studies (Local Food Systems: Concepts, Impacts, and Issues, and Comparing the Structure, Size, and Performance of Local and Mainstream Food Supply Chains) that together provide a national perspective on local foods and tell detailed stories about local food supply chains. Read more »

Do You Know Your Farmer?

Where does your food come from and how does it get to your plate?  For many Americans this is a question that is becoming more and more difficult to answer as they become further removed from the farm and less connected to agriculture.  The hard work that goes into producing our nation’s food supply is being taken for granted.

We cannot let our children grow up thinking that food comes from a grocery store.  That’s why I started the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative last year.  As outlined in USDA’s new strategic plan, the initiative offers an innovative environment for us all to learn, share, and problem solve together.  Washington doesn’t have all the answers, so I want to invite you to join us in a national conversation. Read more »