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 »
The Common Market team, led by founders Haile Johnston (far left in red shirt) and Tatiana Garcia-Granados (far right in orange sweater), brings food into Philly communities by connecting Mid-Atlantic farmers with wholesale customers. Photo courtesy Common Market.
It all started with one truck—one truck and the idea that bringing fresh, healthy foods into Philly communities was just a question of coordination. For Haile Johnston and his wife, Tatiana Garcia-Granados, founding Common Market was the logical solution to solve the food access issues they saw in the communities around them.
“The core of Common Market is selling to schools and hospitals,” said Johnston. “Historically, they have been the hardest institutions to reach. They serve the most vulnerable population. That’s why we focus on partnering with schools and hospitals.”
Their food hub business model connects local farmers in the rural Mid-Atlantic region with wholesale customers in urban areas. In their first year, Common Market worked with only a dozen farmers and had 22 customers, but they kept growing—adding trucks and building relationships with local family farms and institutional buyers in urban communities. Read more »
Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to say thank you to your local farmer and to showcase local ingredients in your holiday favorites. Photo courtesy Diane Cordell
An array of colors is on display at local farmers markets with products like stunning purple Graffiti cauliflower. New varieties can add a new—and local—twist to traditional dishes on your Thanksgiving table. Photo courtesy Dan Bruell
On Thanksgiving, friends, families and communities come together across America to give thanks and celebrate the autumn harvest. I love the opportunity to reflect on all that I am grateful for, including the hard-working farmers and ranchers who provide the delicious and nutritious food for the Thanksgiving table. I also enjoy making my favorite traditional dishes with fresh, local ingredients that support the farmers and ranchers in my own community.
Secretary Vilsack has identified local and regional food systems as one of four pillars of USDA’s work to help revitalize the rural economy, create jobs and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Buying local supports the farmers and small businesses in your community, making it the perfect way to say thank you. Read more »
USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.
Strong local food systems are one of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies. On Monday, he announced the award of over $52 million to support local and regional food systems and the organic industry through five USDA grant programs. Most of the grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.
As part of that announcement, my agency—the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing through the new Farmers Market and Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, as well as over $1 million in matching grants through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). For years, AMS has led USDA efforts to support local and regional food systems by awarding grants that give farmers and ranchers around the country tools to reach consumers, strengthen ties between urban and rural communities and help meet the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food. Read more »
With support from a USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan, the Cellars at Jasper Hill in rural Greensboro, Vermont was able to expand its facility, grow its business and reach new markets.
Last month, Secretary Vilsack announced a historic level of funding available for local and regional food: $78 million, including $48 million through USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and $30 million through the newly-expanded Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program. The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA these and other tools and resources, expanding our ability to connect rural and urban communities, increase access to healthy foods, and support rural economies through local food systems.
What does this mean for rural economies? Consider Cellars of Jasper Hill in Greensboro, Vermont. The Kehler brothers took their passion for dairy and founded a cheese making operation 10 years ago. Partnering with Vermont’s Community National Bank, USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program helped the company construct a 22,000-square-foot facility and expand its on-farm value-added cheese production. The project helped save 20 existing jobs and created 14 new ones in a town with fewer than 1,000 residents. Read more »
From left to right: Deborah Kane, USDA Farm to School Program; Tim Snyder, Seeds of Change; Leslie Fowler, Chicago Public Schools; Anne Alonzo, AMS Administrator; Jim Slama, FamilyFarmed.org; Paul Saginaw, Zingerman's; Ken Waagner, e.a.t.; and Tom Spaulding, Angelic Organics Learning Center. The Good Food Festival & Conference is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America.
For over a century, my hometown of Chicago has been a cultural, financial, and agricultural hub. And as a hub, it has a long history of supporting innovation and opportunity. From the first cattle drives came the great Chicago Stockyards that supplied meat to the nation. From the early trading of the Chicago Butter and Egg Board came the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. The city’s richly-woven tapestry of cultural diversity and the success of its food businesses prove Chicago’s value as an ideal business cultivator.
That is why it was so fitting that AMS Deputy Administrator Arthur Neal and I were invited to present at the Good Food Festival & Conference in Chicago on March 14. Hosted by Jim Slama of FamilyFarmed.org, the event is the oldest sustainable and local food trade show in America. Each year it brings together stakeholders including farmers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, and food industry representatives. Read more »