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Category: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food

Growing with the Times, Expanded USDA Farmers Market Opens for 20th Season

(Left to right)  Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal, Agricultural Market Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo, USDA Farmers Market Coordinator Annie Ceccarini,  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Under Secretary Ed Avalos cut the ribbon opening at the USDA’s 2015 Farmers Market in the east parking lot of USDA in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

(Left to right) Under Secretary Kevin Concannon, USDA AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal, Agricultural Market Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo, USDA Farmers Market Coordinator Annie Ceccarini, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and Under Secretary Ed Avalos cut the ribbon opening at the USDA’s 2015 Farmers Market in the east parking lot of USDA in Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 1, 2015. USDA photo by Tom Witham.

This morning, Secretary Tom Vilsack and I kicked off the 20th season of the USDA Farmers Market.  It was quite a celebration, complete with balloons, ribbon cutting and bell ringing!  The market underwent a major redesign and expansion this year to make room for twice as many vendors as we’ve had in the past.  Featuring everything from fresh oysters to delicious pastries to crisp lettuce, today’s market is full of delicious offerings from local farmers, ranchers and food businesses.   

I am so proud that my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has managed this market for the past 20 years, turning it into a true gathering place for USDA and its neighbors, including Washington, D.C.-area employees, residents in Ward 2 and visitors to the National Mall.  The USDA Farmers Market also provides a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs. Read more »

USDA Continues to Expand Local and Regional Market Data

Organic tomatoes on  display at the La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque, NM.

USDA Market News is now issuing a new weekly National Retail Report covering local and organic products. This report covers online advertisement surveys highlighting local or organic foods from about 534 retailers and over 29,000 stores nationwide. The report features advertised prices for fruits and vegetables, livestock, poultry, and dairy products. USDA photo courtesy of Bob Nichols.

Are you in the market for data covering locally and regionally produced agricultural products?  You are not alone.  Consumer demand for local and regional food products continues to soar, with retail sales at an estimated $6.1 billion in 2012.  Thanks to support from the 2014 Farm Bill, USDA Market News created a series of market reports on locally or regionally produced agricultural products. 

USDA Market News – administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – provides unbiased, reliable data that serves as the information lifeline for America’s agricultural economy.  The reports for local and regional food outlets – available on the Local & Regional Food Marketing Information webpage – provide farmers, agricultural businesses, and consumers with a one-stop-shop for market and pricing information. Read more »

Grant it, Food Hubs Mean More Local Food for You

Mix of bright vegetables

Spring is now upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. Farmers across the country are making local foods available to their communities. USDA photo courtesy of Peter Wood, AMS.

Spring is upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. The fresh air has more people talking about and buying local foods. In fact, data from the USDA Economic Research Service suggests that farmers across the country sold an estimated $6.1 billion in locally marketed foods in 2012. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a role in increasing these numbers by creating marketing opportunities for American farmers and local food businesses through the combination of applied research, technical services, and grant support.

As the demand for local food increases, food hubs are one way farmers can deliver more fresh food to retailers, schools, hospitals and restaurants. That’s why expanding local food efforts have focused on creating more food hubs. A food hub is an enterprise that helps farmers collect and gather local and regional agricultural products for distribution and marketing to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers. Read more »

Taking a Bite out of the Local Apple in the Windy City

The Chicago Public Schools System has incorporated locally-grown produce into school menus, providing students with fresh, healthy food. (Administrator Anne Alonzo, 4th from right) USDA Photo Courtesy of Peter Wood.

The Chicago Public Schools System has incorporated locally-grown produce into school menus, providing students with fresh, healthy food. (Administrator Anne Alonzo, 4th from right) USDA Photo Courtesy of Peter Wood.

March is National Nutrition Month, and local food plays an important role in providing Americans with fresh, healthy fuel for their bodies. From farmers to financiers to schools and hospitals, there is a lot of passion for sharing good food by supporting strong local and regional food systems. I experienced this firsthand during my trip to Chicago, Ill., where I spoke at last week’s Good Food Festival & Conference.

The trip came on the heels of a recent announcement that USDA is making $97 million available to expand access to healthy food and support rural economies.  Grants from my agency — the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) – make up over $90 million of that funding.  AMS was a sponsor and exhibitor at the trade show, where we shared information with stakeholders about the many resources we have to support local and regional food systems. Through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (comprised of the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program), AMS supports producers, local food entrepreneurs, and rural and urban communities across the country. Read more »

USDA Helps Plant a Seed for a Healthier Next Generation of Inner City Students

Miller Grove students inspecting the plants as they go into the soil. NRCS photo.

Miller Grove students inspecting the plants as they go into the soil. NRCS photo.

As teams of agriculturalists across America celebrated National Agricultural Day on March 18, a group of volunteers and professionals arrived at Miller Grove Middle School in Lithonia, Georgia.  They were there to give a hands-on outdoor lesson on how to build, plant and maintain a school garden to a group of Atlanta metro-area students who have likely never experienced what it’s like to grow their own food.

On this made-to-order, cool and clear morning, just two days before the official start to spring, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Dr. Joe Leonard was the first to share remarks.  He began by thanking Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for his commitment to providing community gardens to underserved communities. “Miller Grove School is a perfect example of how partnerships between the federal government (USDA’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights and Natural Resource Conservation Service), non-profit organizations (The Stewart Foundation and Two Rivers Resource Conservation and Development Council) and the DeKalb County School District can work together on behalf of children.” Read more »

Hoop Houses in Nevada Elementary Schools to Help ‘Plant a Seed’ in Young Minds for Healthy Eating

Lisa Maslach, school counselor; Judy Halterman, Veggies for Kids Program; and Staci Emm, with the Extension, discuss planting techniques and strategies at Yerington Elementary School. NRCS photo by Heather Emmons.

Lisa Maslach, school counselor; Judy Halterman, Veggies for Kids Program; and Staci Emm, with the Extension, discuss planting techniques and strategies at Yerington Elementary School. NRCS photo by Heather Emmons.

Above the sounds of whirring drills and nails being hammered into wood planks, squeals of excitement and oohs and ahhs emanated from Yerington Elementary School students as they filed past the hoop house being built on their way to the lunchroom.

March is National Nutrition Month, so it only seems fitting that three rural elementary schools in Nevada had hoop houses installed in late February and early March as part of a partnership among USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and Urban Roots Americorps. Read more »