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Category: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Secretary’s Column: Local Markets, Local Growth

Many consumers want to “buy local” and support their local economy with their purchases. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results indicate that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Today, local food is a more than $7 billion industry and growing, according to industry estimates. The excitement around this market is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life. Read more »

At the Intersection of Agriculture and the U.S. Military

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 19th season opening of the USDA Farmers Market.  Our celebration of U.S. military service members, past and present, and American agriculture brought together special guests, partners, farmers and the community.  USDA photo by Peter Wood.

We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the 19th season opening of the USDA Farmers Market. Our celebration of U.S. military service members, past and present, and American agriculture brought together special guests, partners, farmers and the community. USDA photo by Peter Wood.

Red, white, and blue balloons soared high above the bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers and vendors at the opening of the 19th season of the USDA Farmers Market.  With echoes of the Star Spangled Banner played by the “President’s Own” Marine Band, we celebrated the service of our men and women in uniform, reaffirming USDA’s commitment to supporting veterans and active-duty service members.  We also celebrated several points of intersection between American agriculture and the military community.

From our partners and stakeholders who joined us for the event, we saw amazing generosity and dedication to improving the lives of military families.  Burpee Seed Company handed out thousands of Welcome Home Garden Project seed packets, bringing the healing gift of gardening to thousands of heroes.  With over 165,000 families participating and over 1.8 million seed packets distributed over the last two years, their efforts to provide healing, comfort and homegrown foods are truly inspiring. Read more »

USDA Farmers Market Opens with a Recipe to Honor Our Veterans

A beautiful day is forecasted for the 19th year, the USDA Farmers Market opening. The market is a another example of USDA’s commitment to supporting local and regional food systems. We hope that you will join us on Friday, June 6, at 9:30 a.m. for our opening.

A beautiful day is forecasted for the 19th year, the USDA Farmers Market opening. The market is a another example of USDA’s commitment to supporting local and regional food systems. We hope that you will join us on Friday, June 6, at 9:30 a.m. for our opening.

I love farmers markets. The vibrant colors, enticing smells, and vivacious people make me feel so very alive and happy. Local markets also work to bring communities together.  I have been to a number of farmers markets across the U.S., but my favorite one is located right here in Washington, DC—in fact, it’s right here at USDA.

My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, is proud to host the USDA Farmers Market each week, building connections to the vendors, customers, and surrounding community.  Tomorrow, June 6, the USDA Farmers Market opens a new season with a salute to our military, veterans and American agriculture.   We will not only celebrate the bounty of the market, but will also thank our military for serving with valor, courage, and distinction. Read more »

California Food for California Kids, Especially on Thursdays

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

California school food service directors cook and then sample new recipes that incorporate California products. (Photo courtesy of Center for Ecoliteracy)

I collect aprons like other people collect coins. There are dozens hanging in my kitchen, so many I suspect several have never actually been used. So it was with some self-consciousness that I accepted yet another apron last fall from the Center for Ecoliteracy.

The Center was handing out hundreds of aprons to California school food service directors along with recipes for healthy school meals. At the Palm Springs Convention Center, tables were lined with ingredients, tools of the trade such as mixing bowls and measuring cups, and two burner stoves. Our task was to locate our group and get cooking; we’d be making lunch not for hungry children but for hungry conference attendees at the California Food for California Kids conference. Read more »

Secretary’s Column: Farm Bill Supports Specialty Crop Growers, Improves Access to Healthy Food

The 2014 Farm Bill has already set in motion and accomplished so much for our country. With historic support for specialty crop producers across the country, the bill will touch every one of our lives through one of the most basic of human needs: food.

Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat—all of our fruits and vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits—as well as things like cut flowers and nursery crops. They are half of MyPlate at every meal, and the daily source for most of our vitamins and nutrients. For many in rural America, these crops not only provide nutrition, they are also a primary source of income.

For nearly a decade, USDA supported specialty crop growers across the country through the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) program. These grants enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies. Read more »

Local Combines with American Grown

Quickly assembling tortilla wraps for hungry students is a hard job. I learned this first hand recently at Stone Spring Elementary in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Mary Lou, Ott and Jean, the cafeteria staff responsible for preparing and serving school meals every day, took control of the kitchen, quickly assembling 300 turkey wraps while I clumsily tried to keep up.

But while I found the prep work to be challenging, I learned that products from USDA, such as the lean turkey in the wraps, make it easier for schools to buy local foods. USDA purchases over $1 billion of food from American farmers for school meal programs every year. Known as USDA Foods, these American grown products include fruits, vegetables, dairy, whole grains, lean meats and poultry. Read more »