Partnering for a Strong Rural Economy is a USDA Specialty
A strong rural economy benefits the whole nation. Sales of specialty crops – which include everything from fruits and vegetables to tree nuts, cut flowers and nursery crops – total nearly $65 billion per year. The success of specialty crop farmers and businesses creates opportunities for new jobs and is critical to the rural economy. That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is partnering with states to support the hardworking American farmers who grow these products.
This week Secretary Tom Vilsack announced millions of dollars in grant funding authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill, including $66 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants (SCBG) awarded by AMS. The goal of the SCBG program is to promote and increase opportunities for specialty crop producers by supporting projects that create new business opportunities, boost productivity and improve food safety. Every state department of agriculture receives a block grant that it can use to fund projects that support its specific priorities. This year’s specialty crop block grants fund 838 projects across all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four U.S. territories.
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USDA’s investments in local and regional food systems help provide farmers and ranchers with greater opportunities, consumers with more choices and bring jobs to rural and urban communities. USDA Photo.
Strong local food systems are one of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Vilsack’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies. On Monday, he announced the award of over $52 million to support local and regional food systems and the organic industry through five USDA grant programs. Most of the grants were authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill.
As part of that announcement, my agency—the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing through the new Farmers Market and Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, as well as over $1 million in matching grants through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP). For years, AMS has led USDA efforts to support local and regional food systems by awarding grants that give farmers and ranchers around the country tools to reach consumers, strengthen ties between urban and rural communities and help meet the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food. Read more »
Christy (left) and Lilah Talbott of Richmond, VA came to the Fall Line Farms pick-up point, a food hub that offers a wide variety of household food staples and specialty items. USDA’s new food hub directory will help connect schools, hospitals and restaurants across the U.S. with food from local farms and vendors.
What a great time of year to visit your local farmers market! From root crops such as beets, carrots and radishes to salad greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach—farmers markets are full of fresh ingredients that you can use in your favorite fall recipes. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, maintains the USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, where you can search for local markets and discover where to get your squashes, pumpkins, pears and apples. There are over 8,200 farmers markets listed with their locations, operating hours and other details, providing a simple and easy way for consumers and producers around the country to find each other.
Local and regional food systems, including farmers markets, are one of USDA’s four key pillars to revitalize rural economies and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Last month, I announced that AMS was building three new local food directories for food hubs, community-supported agriculture operations and on-farm markets. I asked local food enterprises to go online and list the details of their businesses in the new directories—and they responded! Read more »
Consumer demand for organic products continues to grow across the country, representing a multi-billion dollar industry. To meet this demand, USDA offers programs and services to assist the organic community and educate consumers that purchase organic products.
Consumer demand for organic products continues to grow across the country, representing a $35 billion dollar industry in 2013. To meet this demand, USDA has initiated a number of new and expanded efforts to connect organic farmers and businesses with the resources they need to ensure the continued growth of the organic sector domestically and abroad.
Some programs have the specific purpose of assisting organic farmers, ranchers, and handlers. Other programs are open to the general public, including organic operations. USDA has a one-stop-shop for information on all of our programs and opportunities for the organic community. From research and education, to market information and technical assistance, we have something for you. Read more »
A district conservationist with NRCS (right) works with a Maryland farmer to discuss conservation options for his farm that include improving water quality in the Chesapeake watershed. NRCS photo.
You don’t have to dig too deep to understand the connection of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to clean water in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. For nearly 80 years, conservationists with this USDA agency have built a stellar reputation of helping producers save their soil and improve water quality nationwide with the use of technical expertise and financial assistance.
Conservationists have used this expertise to help farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed achieve similar goals. Wise land management is one significant way to prevent the erosion and nutrient runoff that threatens the Bay. Read more »
A USDA pilot program is helping small producers reach more retail markets by making Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification more accessible and affordable. Under the pilot, cooperatives, food hubs and other groups of small producers can pool resources to implement food safety training programs, perform internal inspections and share the cost of GAP certification.
For their communities, small farmers are anything but small. Their contributions are quite large – not only do they provide food for local residents – they also create jobs and economic opportunities. However, retailer requirements and the cost of marketing can make it difficult for small producers to scale up and reach larger markets. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is working to remove those barriers by offering a number of services that help small and local producers grow and sustain their businesses.
In the produce industry, more and more retailers require suppliers to have Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification, which verifies that the operation is following industry-recognized food safety practices and recommendations from the Food and Drug Administration. For small farmers, getting GAP certified can be difficult and expensive. To help offset some of these costs, the AMS Specialty Crops Inspection Division and Transportation and Marketing Program are partnering with the Wallace Center at Winrock International to implement a Group GAP Pilot Project. Read more »