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 »
The Director of USDA’s Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, Norah Deluhery, eats lunch with kids at a Philadelphia Archdiocese’s Nutritional Development Services (NDS) summer food service site. The Center maintains integral relationships with partners like NDS to ensure disadvantaged children don’t go hungry when school is out.
The City of Brotherly Love puts its motto into practice. I saw this firsthand when I travelled to Philadelphia to meet with a network of community leaders who partner with USDA through its Summer Food Service Program. With this program, USDA subsidizes nutritious summer lunches for students who need them and works with community partners to deliver those meals.
In Philadelphia, about 22% of children live in households that have trouble putting enough food on the table for every member of the family. That means when school is out, and school meals are not available, many kids are vulnerable. The Summer Food Service Program plays a critical role in making sure kids have access to nutritious meals so that they can begin the school year well nourished and alert. My friend and former director of the White House’s Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives during the George W. Bush Administration, Professor John DiIulio, invited me to Philadelphia where he currently works at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fox Leadership Program. Read more »
New Jersey farmer Liang Shao Hua listens to NRCS technical advisor Frank Wu provide advice in Chinese Mandarin, Liang’s native language. His limited English proficiency restricted his exposure to USDA farm programs until Tropical Storm Sandy made it necessary for Liang to connect with the department for assistance. He is now an FSA loan recipient and appreciates the cost-share benefits of the Emergency Conservation Program funds that assisted his family’s clean-up efforts.
Disasters create pain. And recovery from disasters creates partnerships and opportunity.
That is the lesson Liang Shao Hua learned in the past year after Tropical Storm Sandy, also known as Super Storm Sandy, destroyed his New Jersey high-tunnel farming operation and left him wondering how to manage his loss.
Liang, a Chinese American with very limited English proficiency, relied first on his American-born son, Peter, a 21-year-old college student studying at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York. Peter obtained USDA paperwork from the Farm Service Agency (FSA) that helped his father apply for Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) funds. He, his brother, David, 19, and mother, Pei Yin, joined Liang in the clean-up efforts.
Liang Shao Hua was among 315 successful applicants for ECP, one-third from New Jersey. The applicants stretched from West Virginia to New Hampshire. That was the wide swath where Sandy and her trailing cold front left a path of destruction to Atlantic Coast and New England farms. Read more »
Three years ago this fall, Secretary Vilsack and I launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative (KYF2). Since then, we’ve seen interest and participation in local and regional food systems grow beyond anything we expected: whether I’m meeting with buffalo ranchers from the Great Plains or with members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, I hear about efforts to connect producers and consumers locally and interest in how USDA can help.
In meetings of the White House Rural Council, which has representatives from across the federal government, regional food systems have been a key part of discussions. Read more »
Pennsylvania is among the country’s top ten states represented in the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory. I recently completed a trip through the Fruit Belt to the Lehigh Valley and Philadelphia to see how USDA’s support of farmers market development is impacting communities and helping farmers across the Keystone State.
My first stop was Camp Hill, a small town outside Harrisburg, to visit a new farmers market developed with the assistance of community organizations including Capital Resource and Conservation & Development Area Council (Capital RC&D). Capital RC&D received a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to help farmers markets improve their consumer outreach and receive EBT and debit payments to expand micro-business opportunities for the area’s local farmers. The market, which just opened in May, is off to a great start with over a dozen vendors selling local bread, meat, dairy and produce from Pennsylvania’s fruit belt. Read more »
Leveraging the buying power of the entire community creates a steady demand for local farmers and brings fresh produce, like the squash pictured above, to community hospitals and schools.
There are many communities across the country grappling with limited access to affordable, fresh fruits and vegetables at a time when these same communities are fighting rising rates of childhood obesity, type 2 diabetes, and other diet-related illnesses. The very definition of community—that inter-connectedness between residents, businesses, hospitals and schools—means that health or food issues that affect one part of the community can have a negative impact on the rest. Read more »