Matt Russell (right) with his USDA colleagues Christina Conell (left) and Deborah Kane (center), at the 2015 USDA Farm to School Grantee Gathering in Denver, CO. The annual gathering is an opportunity for Farm to School grantees from across the country to meet face to face, network and share best practices.
“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”
So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program. Read more »
Jill Auburn, National Program Leader for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Beginning Farmer and Ranchers Development Program, is one of the original members of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Task Force which coordinates the Department’s work on local and regional food systems.
This month, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2) celebrates an important milestone: the sixth anniversary of the first convening of the KYF2 Task Force. Since 2009, the Task Force, a dedicated team of experts from across the Department, has been hard at work in support of USDA’s commitment to local and regional food systems. As we mark this important milestone, we wanted to recognize some of the outstanding USDA employees who have been at the core of this work.
Jill Auburn, National Program Leader at USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and manager of the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, has been part of the KYF2 Task Force since the beginning. Jill came to USDA in 1998 and has seen the Department’s work on local food evolve. Jill describes the launch of the Task Force as a recognition that “the world has been doing this [local food], and USDA needs to engage. We aren’t the lead on this – our work is being driven by what’s happening in communities around the country – but USDA has a lot of tools to assist.” The 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills have given USDA many tools and authorities to support local and regional food systems. Read more »
Rural Development Deputy Under Secretary Patrice Kunesh admires an official USA Winter Olympic Team sweater made with wool from the Imperial Stock Ranch in Shiniko, Oregon. The Ranch used a USDA Value Added Producer Grant to develop the yarn.
“When you are a small farm, you don’t have a lot of capital.” says Julie Donnelly of Deepwoods Farm, a small tomato farm she runs with her husband in Bradley County, Arkansas. Despite being in an area known for its tomatoes, Deepwoods Farms was having a hard time getting ahead. “We couldn’t get past the commercial tomatoes.” Julie remembers. “We were almost bankrupt. I thought ‘I’ve got to do something!’ ”
What Julie decided to do was diversify her tomato crop to produce more varietals, including heirlooms and different colored tomatoes. She believed this would give her farm a competitive edge and open up new market opportunities. The tomatoes were growing well and tasted good. However, no one knew the Donnelleys were doing something different than before. Deepwoods Farms needed marketing and branding support to tell customers why their tomatoes were different. “When I heard about the Value Added Producer Grant, I thought this might be the answer,” said Julie. Read more »
Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty
A strong rural economy benefits the whole nation. Sales of specialty crops – which include everything from fruits and vegetables to tree nuts, cut flowers and nursery crops – total nearly $65 billion per year. The success of specialty crop farmers and businesses creates opportunities for new jobs and is critical to the rural economy. That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is partnering with states to support the hardworking American farmers who grow these products.
This week Secretary Tom Vilsack announced millions of dollars in grant funding authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, including $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) awarded by AMS. The goal of the SCBG program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers by supporting projects that create new business opportunities, boost productivity and improve food safety. Every state department of agriculture receives a block grant that it can use to fund projects that support its specific priorities. This year’s specialty crop block grants fund 838 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.
Read more »
Local residents and town visitors enjoy fresh produce, meats and baked goods each Saturday at the Middleburg Community Farmers Market. Having extra exposure by being listed in the National Farmers Market Directory helps markets like this one in Middleburg, VA connect with more customers. Photo courtesy Cindy Pearson.
Located in Virginia’s horse country, just an hour outside of Washington, DC, is the historic town of Middleburg. Deeply embedded in the town’s roots is a vibrant agricultural sector that is the driving force behind this small community’s success. Each Saturday morning from the spring through the fall, you can find a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and baked goods at the Middleburg Community Farmers Market (MCFM). Raising the market’s visibility is vital to its continued success, so the MCFM recently updated its information in the USDA’s 2014 National Farmers Market Directory – connecting customers to fresh, quality items produced by its local farmers.
The directory, maintained by the Agricultural Marketing Service, is designed to provide consumers with convenient access to information about your farmers market listing including: market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, accepted forms of payment, and more. Thousands of farmers market managers around the country are taking a few minutes to update their market listing. 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 »