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.
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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 »
FarmTek greenhouse manager Sam Schroyer describes how basil is raised hydroponically to Deputy Under Secretary O’Brien and John Whitaker (left), USDA Farm Service Agency Executive Director in Iowa.
All across the country local and regional food systems provide a wealth of opportunities for rural residents. They provide opportunities for farmers, ranchers, and producers to meet growing customer demand for local foods. Local food entrepreneurs are starting to start small businesses like food processing, distribution and retail markets.
Local and regional food systems are also building stronger connections between urban and rural communities. Eastern Iowa is case in point. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa’s second biggest city, the NewBo City Market features the region’s local food offerings. Secretary Vilsack was on hand in the fall of 2012 to open the 18,000 square foot market, local food distribution center, and culinary training facility. Read more »
Barbara Robinson gets ready to plant tomatoes in her high tunnel at her farm, B&W Orchards. Robinson specializes in blueberries but grows other fruits and vegetables. Photo by NRCS.
Known to her neighbors in Clarke County, Miss. as the blueberry lady, Barbara Robinson has a vibrant 20-acre farm packed with blueberries, muscadines and other produce. Robinson is one of the nation’s many fruit growers, and a recent USDA report shows the land dedicated to growing cultivated fruits, nuts and flowers is rapidly growing.
The National Resources Inventory released recently by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service shows a boom in land dedicated to growing fruits, nuts and flowers, increasing from 124,800 acres in 2007 to 273,800 in 2010. Cultivated refers to farms that plant a second crop amid the fruit, nut and flower crop. This finding is one of many in the newest NRI report.
While the report only provides the numbers and doesn’t make inferences, experts at NRCS say one reason for the growth is more available assistance to fruit, nut and flower growers. Read more »
NRCS District Conservationist Kate Parsons discusses pasture management with Sean Stanton. NRCS photo.
When Sean Stanton started improving the pastures surrounding his small farm in Great Barrington, Mass., his efforts not only benefited the natural resources of this scenic southwest corner of Berkshire County but also diners at a Manhattan restaurant.
That’s because he supplies the Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City’s Greenwich Village with pasture-raised beef, veal and pork, as well as eggs and farm-fresh tomatoes. At Blue Hills Farm in Massachusetts, a herd of 20 or so cattle feed in a field skirted by the Appalachian Trail and the rolling Berkshire hills. Some of the farm’s products stay in the Berkshires and some make their way to bigger markets less than three hours away in the Big Apple. Read more »