U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services (FFAS) Deputy Under Secretary Alexis Taylor speaking with local growers.
There’s nothing better than talking about food over a delicious meal of fresh, locally produced ingredients. I had the chance to do that recently, when I visited Central Foods, a Spokane, Washington, restaurant that sources from local farmers and ranchers. There, I met with stakeholders and producers who are taking advantage of new economic opportunities created by the growing consumer demand for local food. We had a great conversation about how USDA supports local food systems and how we can continue to do so in the future.
In communities across America, entrepreneurs like Beth Robinette and Joel Williamson from Spokane’s LINC Foods and Teri McKenzie from Inland NW Food Network are invigorating rural economies by connecting local farmers and consumers. They are opening up new markets for farmers, drawing young people back to farming, and increasing access to fresh foods for consumers. That’s why USDA has identified strong local and regional food systems as one of four pillars for rural economic development, and we’ve stepped up our support for this important sector of agriculture. Read more »
Beth Robinette, a rancher and leader in the local food and regional food movement in Spokane, Washington.
Every month, USDA shares the story of a woman in agriculture who is leading the industry and helping other women succeed along the way. This month, we hear from Beth Robinette, a rancher and leader in the local food and regional food movement in Spokane, Washington. She runs her family’s fourth-generation grass fed beef operation the Lazy R Ranch, and is one of the co-founders of LINC Foods, a worker and farmer owned cooperative food hub based in Spokane. She studied sustainable agriculture and business and marketing at Fairhaven College at Western Washington University, and earned her MBA in Sustainable Systems at Pinchot University with an emphasis on Local Living Economies and Sustainable Food and Agriculture.
How did you first become interested in the local and regional food movement?
Local food was really the norm in my household growing up. We raised a lot of our own food, or we would trade beef for things we didn’t raise ourselves. My grandpa was a prolific gardener and I can vividly remember the joy of eating a perfectly ripe tomato, warm from the sun, out of his garden. My dad had a part-time job working for a sustainable agriculture non-profit called the Washington State Food and Farming Network when I was in middle school and high school. He was the Eastern Washington coordinator and his job put him in contact with many movers and shakers in the local/regional food movement, which was really my first exposure to the idea. It wasn’t until I left for college, however, that I began to realize how privileged I had been to grow up on a ranch, and that most of my fellow students had a totally different relationship to food and agriculture than I did. I read Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma for a class my freshman year, and I was pretty much hooked on local food from then on. Read more »
Eric Grandon and his family sell their local food products at a Farmer's Market in Clay County, West Virginia.
Eric Grandon of West Virginia is a war hero in the truest sense. Spending nearly 20 years in the Army, he was a combat veteran in Operation Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom II, and participated in four peace-time missions to the Middle East. Yet, when a horrific flashback overtook him in 2011, he was unable to continue his job as a Physical Therapist Assistant and was deemed unemployable and permanently disabled from PTSD. Unable to work, he found himself wandering around his farm aimlessly for nearly two years until he met James McCormick, the present Director of the Veterans and Warriors Agriculture program under the West Virginia Department of Agriculture.
A veteran himself, McCormick encouraged Grandon to take up farming, which had helped him work through his own PTSD. It was during a USDA Armed to Farm conference hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) that Grandon officially decided to become a farmer. He even took up beekeeping which he found to be the most therapeutic of them all often bringing tears of joy to his eyes. Read more »
USDA Farmers Market poster (Click to enlarge)
Get excited—we sure are! Friday, May 6, is the opening of the 21st season of the USDA Farmers Market in Washington, D.C. This means USDA employees and others who work nearby, residents of the city’s Ward 2, and tourists visiting the National Mall can once again shop at the USDA Farmers Market at 12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W., starting next Friday, May 6, at 9 a.m.
We’re thrilled to have more farmers and growers participating than ever before. Farmers and growers participating for the first time include Chocolates and Tomatoes Farm and Spiral Path Farm, both of which are certified organic farms that offer community supported agriculture (CSA) pick up; EcoFriendly Foods, which has packaged and ready-to-eat meat and poultry products from animals raised without steroids, antibiotics, and hormones; King Mushrooms, which offers fresh varieties of oyster, button, and other mushrooms; and Stonyman Gourmet Farmer, which has small-batch, handmade cheeses and farmhouse foods. Read more »
Produce on display at farmers’ market in Washington DC. Economic Research Service’s Amber Waves magazine reports that farmers who market goods directly to consumers are more likely to remain in business. USDA photo
Opportunities to buy food directly from farmers, in urban and rural areas, have increased considerably in recent years. The number of farms that sold food at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, pick-your-own farms, onfarm stores, and community-supported agricultural arrangements increased 24 percent between 2002 and 2012. Economists at the Economic Research Service (ERS) have found that farmers who market goods directly to consumers are more likely to remain in business than those who market only through traditional channels.
Farmers face many business risks, including fluctuations in prices and yields. ERS looked at Census of Agriculture data showing that 61 percent of farms with direct-to-consumer (DTC) sales in 2007 were in business under the same operator in 2012, compared with 55 percent of farms without DTC sales. In a comparison of farms across four size categories (defined by annual sales in 2007), farmers with DTC sales had a higher survival rate in each category. The difference in survival rates ranged from 10 percentage points among the smallest farms to about 6 percentage points among the largest. Read more »
Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food. Every family needs a farmer. Photo: Virtual Panorama of Reiter Berry Farms, in Watsonville, CA.
Since the beginning of April 2016, USDA has celebrated the success of small and mid-sized farmers in conjunction with local and regional food systems. USDA officially kicked off Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) Month by not only announcing a number of new initiatives, but also highlighting the vast array of accomplishments achieved by our stakeholders, grantees, employees and more.
KYF2 Month is soon coming to a close. However, we still have a few announcements up our sleeves. Today we’re rolling out the revamped Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website. The site was redesigned to offer a more user-friendly experience that makes it easier to navigate the wealth of USDA and partner resources. Using updated web standards and visuals to optimize the user-experience, we’ve reorganized the information and gathered new content. In short, the KYF2 website has become an even better a one-stop-shop for information on USDA’s local and regional food systems work. Read more »