Incorporating local produce into summer meals programs benefits the entire community.
Fields of asparagus and peas are in full bounty, soon to make way for sweet, juicy strawberries; towering stalks of corn; and more tomatoes than you’d ever know what to do with! In many parts of the country, as we approach summer, the warm weather means that local harvests are at their peak, and fresh fruits and vegetables abound. That’s what makes summer the perfect time of year for incorporating local foods into your meals. And according to the most recently released data from the Farm to School Census 2015, more than 1,000 school districts nationwide are doing just that: They’re bringing the farm to summer!
When school lets out for summer, there’s still a need to ensure the millions of children who receive free and reduced-price school meals during the school year have consistent access to healthy meals. USDA’s summer meals programs help fill that gap, serving over 191 million meals to children last summer alone! Community centers, libraries, day camps, churches, and more can all sign up to host a summer meals site through the summer meals programs, but schools make for a particularly good site since they already have food production facilities in place for serving meals throughout the school year. The Farm to School Census 2015 found that more than one in five school districts that participate in farm to school programs report including local foods in meals served through their summer meals programs. Read more »
Map of the dollar value of USDA Foods purchased in FY 2014; icons represent the states that are the largest sources of a particular type of USDA Foods. (Click to view a larger version)
Do you know where your food comes from? If you can pinpoint where your food was grown and produced, you can make more informed decisions to maximize quality, freshness, and nutritional value. You can also help support local economies through your purchases. The USDA Foods program takes this mantra to heart and publishes state of origin reports with procurement information on all USDA Foods every year. As we like to say at FNS, “All USDA Foods are local to someone.”
USDA Foods are 100 percent American grown and produced. Each year, USDA procures more than 200 types of food, including meat, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, flour, cereals, and dairy products, totaling approximately $2 billion. Organizations such as food banks, disaster and emergency feeding organizations, Indian Tribal Organizations, schools, and other feeding groups receive these USDA Foods for use in meal service or distribution to households through programs like the National School Lunch Program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations. Read more »
A bar chart showing pricing comparisons for common organic and farmers market vegetables. Visit agriculture.vermont.gov/localfooddatatracking for the full report from agriculture.vermont.gov.
When comparing product prices between farmers markets and retail stores, local products are competitively priced – within a 10 percent price range – at farmers markets a majority of the time, even less expensive for some foods. Local, certified organic products at farmers markets are almost always competitively priced when compared to prices at retail stores.
These are just some of the findings from a recent project conducted by the Local Foods Data Tracking Program, a joint effort between USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Market News division and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets (VAAFM). Prices were collected on a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a selection of meat and poultry products grown and sold in Vermont. Read more »
On market day, Crossroads Farmers Market creates a lively, safe community gathering space, bringing together food growers, makers, and consumers. The market is tied closely to the primarily low-income, mostly immigrant community with 75% of their vendors being immigrants. Photo by Molly M. Peterson
Anticipation is building for the opening of seasonal farmers markets in communities across the country—especially in Takoma Park, MD, at the Crossroads Farmers Market. With over 1,000 visitors each week and vendors offering 131 different fruits and vegetables, market manager Michelle Dudley has a lot of work to do figuring out the perfect placement of farmers and vendors coming to the market starting June 1.
Thanks to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she has it all mapped out! Read more »
Farm Fresh's Warehouse Manager Alex Mendonca (middle) and Market Mobile Manager Kimberly Garofolo (right) work on the early morning packline. They work together to perform a final quality inspection before orders are packed onto delivery trucks.
Open any food magazine these days and you’re bound to find a profile of the latest locavore start-up turning cream and cantaloupe into craft popsicles or maple sap into a whole new category of bottled beverages. As consumer demand for local foods continues to climb like pole beans, venture capitalists are scouring this sector in search of the next hot investment.
USDA has long been investing in this space too, for the good of rural economies. And now we’re unveiling a new online interactive training to help other funders understand the work of regional food enterprises that are connecting local producers with local markets, and why they might want to invest in a piece of this pie. Read more »
Local Food Hub’s Kristen Suokko (right) and Bee Thorp (second from right) and Susan Hill (left) explain to USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Elvis Cordova how the high tunnels extend the growing season and USDA’s commitment to local foods is having an impact. USDA photo by Peter Wood.
Results—at USDA we are constantly tracking and measuring them. We want to know that what we’re doing is making a difference, that we’re making progress towards our mission, that the communities we support are getting the help they need. Recently I had the pleasure of visiting local food stakeholders that are making a real difference in Charlottesville, VA and hear firsthand how USDA programs have made an impact in their community.
During my visit, I had a chance to listen to farmers, local food organizers, and business owners share their experiences involving local food production. Just outside Charlottesville, I toured the Hill Farm and the warehouse of Local Food Hub. The open dialog of these visits is important to me and important to USDA. I strongly believe that we need to hear from the public so we make sure our priorities, programs and services are in line with what the American people need. Read more »