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Farm-to-school project opens up new markets for small family farms

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from the USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.By Jennifer Sowerwine, University of California – BerkeleyMy mouth begins to water just thinking about all the delicious fruits and vegetables I will enjoy this coming weekend celebrating the Fourth of July. And we’re lucky here in Northern California to have a wealth of fresh produce grown locally.

Many stores, restaurants and even schools aren’t taking advantage of this local supply. This past spring, with support from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and in coordination with the University of California Cooperative Extension Service, I started a project to open up new markets for local growers by connecting them with new buyers. In particular, we worked with strawberry growers of Southeast Asian descent in the Sacramento and Fresno regions. This is part of a larger program to increase the economic viability of Southeast Asian farms in California’s Central Valley through on-farm research and training in crop production, pest management, food safety and marketing.

Most of the 95 strawberry farm stands in the Sacramento region are owned by Hmong and Mien refugees from Laos, who turned to farming when they immigrated to the United States after the Vietnam War. They sell most of their product at farm stands, but during peak season demand can’t keep up with production. With limited language skills, most farmers can’t access new markets and leave the fruit to rot in the field.

In partnership with local produce distributor, Produce Express, and several nonprofits including the Community Alliance with Family Farms, the Alchemist Community Development Corporation and Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture and Education Project, we now bring fresh, local strawberries into children’s school lunches, restaurants and low-income neighborhoods. Some farmers deliver direct to the schools, allowing children to consume berries picked just hours before.

We also want to reduce “food miles” or the distance food must travel from farm to fork. We created a Google map to help residents find their closest farm stand. Sacramento-area residents are able to enjoy fresh strawberries from farms located less than 10 miles from their residences.

This year, twelve local strawberry farmers sold an additional 4,600 cases of berries beyond their own farm stands, earning a combined $58,000. These additional revenues are a welcome relief for these small farmers, who on average gross $15,000 in a good year. These partnerships are a win-win solution for both small farmers and residents, especially low income residents and school children, who have greater access to fresh, nutritious, local food.

Fresh, local strawberries are now available to more than 60,000 school children through a partnership between local growers, the Sacramento School District and the University of California Cooperative Extension Service.

Fresh, local strawberries are now available to more than 60,000 school children through a partnership between local growers, the Sacramento School District and the University of California Cooperative Extension Service.

Iowa and Nebraska Families Observe June Homeownership Month

By Darin Leach, USDA Iowa Public Information Coordinator and by Vicki Schurman, Nebraska Public Information Coordinator

Earlier this month USDA Rural Development housing administrator Tammye Trevino and four state directors participated in tour to celebrate national Homeownership Month. The theme of national Homeownership Month this year is “Protecting the American Dream.”

During the past year, USDA Rural Development in Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, and Iowa have combined to invest more than $1.5 billion in direct and guaranteed loans to help 9,090 families purchase homes in rural areas.

In Glenwood, Iowa, the tour started by walking through an energy-star rated home currently under construction where the builder explained some construction techniques being used to improve energy efficiency.

The tour then moved across the street and recognized the Tighe family on their recent home purchase that was assisted by a direct loan from USDA Rural Development.  The family was very appreciative of all we have done to help them achieve their homeownership dreams.

The final destination in Glenwood was a stop at a local realtor to recognize some local housing partners.

Administrator Trevino also visited Plattsmouth, Nebraska. She joined Nebraska Rural Development State Director Maxine Moul at Cass County Bank, a local lender. Jal Angelsson and Susan Ramirez and Kendra and Robert Green were the guest of honor homeowners.  The families were presented flags that were flown over the U.S. Capitol at the request of U. S. Senator Ben Nelson. Also, congratulatory letters from the Senator were read.  The partners gave testaments to the American Dream of homeownership and the importance of partnering.  After the program it was off to a tour of the homes.

First on the tour was the Jal Angelsson home.  Jal and his family were already homeowners but needed a larger house to meet the growing demands of this family of five.  With the assistance of an area real estate agent, Jal found a home and obtained a 100 percent loan through Cass County Bank, backed by the USDA Rural Development Guaranteed Loan program via American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.  Also on the tour was the home of Kendra and Robert Green. The Greens were tired of paying rent and wanted to provide their 18 month old daughter, with a home.  They received a low interest rate, no money down loan funded through the USDA Rural Development Single Family Housing Direct Loan program through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.  “We closed on our house April 16, 2010 and couldn’t be happier,” shared Kendra Green.  “Owning a home was something we really didn’t think we would ever be able to do. USDA made our dreams a reality.”

USDA Housing Administrator Tammye Trevino (fifth from right) Homeowners, builders and USDA officials stand in front of a home in Glenwood, Iowa financed with assistance from USDA Rural Development.

USDA Housing Administrator Tammye Trevino (fifth from right) Homeowners, builders and USDA officials stand in front of a home in Glenwood, Iowa financed with assistance from USDA Rural Development.

USDA Rural Housing Administrator Tammye Trevino (Center) in Plattsmouth, Nebraska with homeowners Jal Angelsson and Susan Ramirez ( to Ms. Trevino’s left) and Emmelynn, Robert and Kendra Green.

USDA Rural Housing Administrator Tammye Trevino (Center) in Plattsmouth, Nebraska with homeowners Jal Angelsson and Susan Ramirez ( to Ms. Trevino’s left) and Emmelynn, Robert and Kendra Green.

Honduras’ Biotechnology Leadership Will Advance Both Food and Energy Security in the Region

By John Brewer, Administrator of the Foreign Agricultural Service

I’m here in Tegucigalpa to recognize Honduras as one of the Western Hemisphere’s leaders in incorporating biotechnology in agricultural and energy production. Biotechnology is a powerful tool that can be used to boost agricultural productivity and food security, reduce environmental impact, combat climate change, and build prosperity among the rural poor – a vision that USDA and the U.S. Government share with Honduras.

Last night and this morning I met with Honduran government officials from the agroforestry sector and the Honduran Biotechnology and Biosafety Commission; the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation in Agriculture; academic and think tank scholars; and local farmers. Each of these groups work together to implement the use of biotechnology in the fields and to gain acceptance by society.

While 25 countries around the world are currently planting genetically engineered (GE) crops, Honduras is the only Central American country doing so.  I chose to come to Honduras because their leadership in the implementation of bio-safety regulations can be a model for other countries in the region.

GE crops provide a multitude of tangible benefits to both producers and consumers. Pest-resistant crops reduce the need for pesticides and save on fossil fuel usage and carbon emissions. Increased productivity per acre ensures food security and keeps food prices down, while enhanced nutritional value helps to alleviate hunger.

Planting GE crops isn’t the only area where Honduras can be a leader in our hemisphere. The U.S. government is committed to working with willing partners such as Honduras to simultaneously combat climate change and provide alternate sources of energy. Under President Obama’s Energy and Climate Partnership of the Americas Honduras is a priority country for collaboration with USDA’s Renewable Biomass Energy project. This program aims to improve agriculture and forestry practices, increase scientific exchanges, and enhance biomass production. Today I encouraged Honduras to ramp up production of renewable biomass energy with USDA’s assistance through this program.

President Lobo’s government has stated that each hectare of biomass harvested in Honduras could create 1.5 jobs directly and 2 jobs indirectly. The U.S. government fully supports Honduras in realizing this potential.  Since 2007, Honduras has reduced or eliminated taxes and tariffs on biofuels and implemented a mechanism to mix biofuels with fossil fuels to lower harmful emissions from cars, making this sector attractive for investments. By offering energy alternatives to fossil fuels right in our own hemisphere, Honduras is increasing energy security for the United States too.  I’ve appreciated meeting the people making these advances possible. USDA and Honduras have a win-win biotech partnership that I see strengthening in the future.

Check back tomorrow for another blog post from me about USDA’s Food for Progress programs here in Honduras. Be sure to check out FAS on Facebook and Twitter too!

On June 28 and 29, Administrator Brewer met with Honduran government officials, including Agriculture and Livestock Minister Jacobo Regalado.

On June 28 and 29, Administrator Brewer met with Honduran government officials, including Agriculture and Livestock Minister Jacobo Regalado.

USDA Officials Plant a People’s Garden in Syracuse

USDA Rural Development (RD), Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) staff planted the first public “Peoples Garden” in New York State last week. Read more »

USDA Continues Commitment to Make Farmers Markets More Accessible

The Colorado Farmers Market Association, the City Heights Open Air & Certified Farmers Market in San Diego, Calif. and Greenmarket in New York City did it with help of the Farmers Market Promotion Program.  The Athens Farmers Market in Athens, Ohio was among the first market in Ohio to do it and Detroit’s Eastern Market is seeing record-breaking sales now that they have joined the program. 

These farmers markets are among the more than 1,100 farmers markets and farm stands that have implemented the Electronic Benefits Transfer system and now accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  benefits at their markets.

Implementing a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at farmers markets can sometimes feel overwhelming.  To make it easier, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), in collaboration with the non-profit Project for Public Spaces, has just released “The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Market: A How-To Handbook” .

The Handbook provides essential guidance for farmers market managers installing an Electronic Benefits Transfer machine and advice for making the program work successfully for vendors and customers.  It also features a list of resources, a glossary of important terms, and several case studies from farmers markets that have successfully implemented an Electronic Benefits Technology system.  This Handbook is part of the USDA’s commitment to building more direct market opportunities for producers, expanding both of these benefits at farmers markets, and addressing food deserts, especially those in low-income areas.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program is not the only food assistance program welcomed at farmers markets.  Customers can take advantage of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, a voucher program specifically for low-income seniors.  Families qualifying for the Women, Infants and Children Program can use those benefits at farmers markets across the country as well.  For those customers on the lookout for a farmers market that welcomes these benefits, the USDA Farmers Market Directory has a comprehensive list.

SNAP at Farmers Markets Handbook

SNAP at Farmers Markets Handbook

Missouri USDA Rural Development Partners With World Changers to Help With Housing Repairs

Last week in the north central rural community of Trenton, Missouri, I observed the true spirit of the theme of the 2010 National Home Ownership month – Protecting the Dream.  It was the gathering of 150 volunteer youth from six different states representing seven churches providing labor for repairs to 15 houses.  Read more »