Students plant hundreds of red Russian kale seedlings to be harvested for their summer CSA program. (Photo credit: Jessica Kourkounis)
One of the best parts of my job as a Farm to School Regional Lead for the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is visiting schools and districts that are bringing local foods into the cafeteria and teaching students where their food comes from. And I am always particularly excited when I get to visit programs with innovative school garden components, like William Penn High School, part of Delaware’s Colonial School District.
Several years ago, William Penn went through a major restructure. Part of what came out of that process was a renewed commitment to agricultural education, and the recognition that the 117-acre William Penn Historic Farm, operated by a local land trust, could be a major asset to the school. A new agriculture “major” was established, and students took over two acres of the adjacent parcel to grow more than 30 varieties of fruits and vegetables. They also started a CSA program selling shares to teachers and community members. Read more »
Dr. Ellen Harris, Director of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center taking a look at the red leaf lettuce being grown at the 144 Acre Muirkirk Agricultural Experimentation.
This year I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of urban agriculture operations. From California to Cleveland, the ability of individuals to realize the multidimensional benefits of agricultural production and leverage them in an urban context has been nothing short of amazing.
This past week I visited a University that is heavily involved in both the research and extension aspect of urban agriculture — right in the backyard of the Department’s Washington, D.C. headquarters. The University of the District of Columbia’s (UDC) Muirkirk Agricultural Experimentation is located about 20 minutes north of the school’s D.C. campus. Upon arrival I found everything from activists passionate about learning how to best provide their neighbors with fresh produce, to researchers developing improved hydroponics systems; and even students working with community organizations on rice varieties suitable to be grown in urban areas. 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 »
The City of Anniston will use their 2014 AMS Farmers Market Promotion Program grant funds to establish and promote a year-round farmers market. Photo courtesy of Anniston Downtown Farmers Market.
June is Small Cities Month, an opportunity to celebrate the unique and important role our smaller communities play in our rural economy and making our nation a great place to live and work. Leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship often hail from small cities and their residents are proud of their hometowns. USDA partners with communities across the country to create greater economic impact as the strong rural economies of our small, vibrant cities benefit the whole nation.
Secretary Vilsack identified strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s commitment to rural economic development, and USDA efforts in this area have made a big difference in small cities. My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has a long history of supporting local and regional food systems through grants, research and technical assistance. Across the country, city leaders are recognizing that farmers markets are at the heart of many towns and cities. Read more »
If a farmer or vendor at a farmers market uses the word “organic” to describe their products or practices, they must comply with the USDA organic standards and regulations. The organic label indicates that the product has been produced through approved methods that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity.
Across the nation, farmers markets continue to be great places for communities to gather, shop for fresh, healthy food, and get to know local farmers and ranchers. Farmers markets are also important outlets for the sale of organic agricultural products.
In fact, more than 40 percent of organic operations report direct sales to consumers. As consumer demand for organic and local food increases, farmers markets offer important opportunities for organic producers to enter new markets and grow their businesses. 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 »