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 »
What do Tristan Reader of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), Amy Bacigalupo of the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota, Haile Johnston of Common Market in Philadelphia and Michael Todd’s environmental studies class at Ames High School in Ames, IA have in common? They’re all building connections between farms and consumers and creating strong local food systems in their communities. And all joined me for a Google+ Hangout – a live, virtual panel – on Thursday, November 21 to discuss their work.
There is amazing energy surrounding the development of local food systems in communities nationwide, and our discussion certainly reflected that. But it also came at a time of uncertainty. Congress has yet to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs bill, the major piece of legislation funding USDA’s local food efforts (along with many other critical programs). Until a bill is passed, many of the key resources for producers, businesses and communities engaged in local food systems are without funding. That reality lent a sense of urgency to some of the topics we discussed. Read more »
An infographic looking at how food hubs are building businesses and sustaining communities. Click to view a larger version.
Food is a great equalizer. Whether sharing it with loved ones around our holiday table or worrying about how we’re going to fit lunch in to our busy work days–food is something we all have in common. But we don’t always think about the path it takes to get to our plates or even the store shelves. And while there are many different ways it gets to us, we’re seeing food hubs play an increasingly important role for everyone along the way–farmer to corner store, chef to school lunch.
Food hubs are innovative business models emerging more and more across the country. They bring farmers and suppliers together, with 81 percent of food hubs focusing on increasing opportunities for local farms and allowing smaller producers to pool their products and fulfill larger contracts. Ninety-one percent of food hubs are near cities, connecting rural farmers to larger suburban and urban communities. Oftentimes, farmers who work with food hubs offer a wider variety of products and are able to continue selling their goods later into the growing season. That translated into an average of over $3.7 million in sales in the last year. And USDA’s efforts have helped expand the number of regional food hubs operating around the country. There are over 230, a 65 percent increase since 2009. Read more »