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Posts tagged: small businesses

REAP: Working Well in North Carolina

Joel Olson (left), President of O2 Energies, Inc. of North Carolina speaking with USDA staff

Joel Olson (left), President of O2 Energies, Inc. of North Carolina speaks with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) staff in front of one of O2's solar projects. O2 worked with local North Carolina lender Surrey Bank & Trust and USDA Rural Development to finance the project.

USDA Rural Development’s Rural Energy for America Program, or REAP as we call it, is one of the flagship programs found in the energy title of the Farm Bill. Through REAP, USDA helps rural agricultural producers and small businesses improve their financial bottom line through increased energy efficiency and the development of renewable energy sources.

We wanted to share two great examples of this investment and development in North Carolina. In Mt. Airy, NC, local lenders took advantage of REAP’s loan guarantees to finance O2 Energies and build a solar farm that can provide up to 20% of the power needed by the community. Read more »

Hill Farm Buzzing with Pollinator Success

Farmers Scott and Susan Hill in front of their pollinator garden

Farmers Scott and Susan Hill in front of their pollinator garden. “We had an agricultural specialist visit our farm operations who told us we needed more pollinators,” explained Susan Hill. “We initially added two bee hives and established a pollinator garden. It was amazing, our tomato production increased by 25 percent in the first year!”. Photo by Hill Farm

Since it’s National Pollinator Week, it seemed fitting to express my thanks to farmers Scott and Susan Hill – who run the Hill Farm outside Charlottesville, VA.  Earlier, I had the chance to visit their 10-acre property former tobacco farm to see firsthand how hard they are working to grow a variety of produce for the local customers. But there are more little workers helping on the Hill Farm too. Pollinators!

In the United States, about one third of all agricultural output depends on pollinators. Insects and other animal pollinators are vital to the production of healthy crops for food, fibers, edible oils, medicines, and other products. It’s clear that pollinators are important to the Hill Farm for their production of their artisan and specialty varieties of several vegetables, including lettuce, asparagus, tomatoes and even golden beets.  And the first year, the addition of bees increased their tomato production by 25 percent. Read more »

Mapping Out Farmers Market Success

Crossroads Farmers Market

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 »

New GroupGAP Certification Brings New Opportunities for the Produce Industry

A National School Lunch Week event at Nottingham Elementary School

From salad greens to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up everywhere from grocery stores to our kids’ school lunch plates. Helping the produce industry meet this local food demand and to meet the requirements of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) now offers a new GroupGAP certification program for smaller growers. USDA Photo by Lance Cheung.

Excitement is building in the produce industry.  From salad greens to roasted beets to fresh blueberries, local food is showing up on grocery stores shelves, as new features on restaurants menus and on our kids’ school lunch plates.  The increased demand for local food is creating more opportunities for farmers, ranchers and producers. While exploring new ways to meet the demand, the produce industry is also keeping an eye on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

To help producers meet the requirements of FSMA, one of the most important services USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) provides is our Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification. That’s why we’re launching a new GroupGAP certification program that allows smaller growers and producers to band together to become certified as a group. We are working closely with FDA to align our GAP and GroupGAP programs with FSMA requirements so that as FSMA takes effect, certified growers will know they are meeting the new requirements. Read more »

Of Bison and Blue Cornmeal: USDA Supports Access to Traditional Foods in Native American Communities

Kandace and Brianna Lasiloo dicing tomatoes

FDPIR provides healthy food and nutrition education to an average of 92,500 income-eligible individuals living on or near reservations across the United States each month.

March is National Nutrition Month. Throughout the month, USDA will be highlighting results of our efforts to improve access to safe, healthy food for all Americans and supporting the health of our next generation.

In Indian Country, culture and tradition are sustained through shared meals with family and the community. Traditional foods are a powerful way for each new generation to connect with and honor its history and its ancestors.

Bison and blue cornmeal have recently graced the tables of participants in USDA’s Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) thanks to the joint commitment of the Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service, working with the FDPIR community to identify and procure foods traditional to many tribes. Last year, AMS awarded two contracts to Native American-owned small businesses to deliver frozen, lean ground bison meat to FDPIR. From November 2015 to the end of June 2016, these companies are on schedule to deliver a total of 520,000 pounds of bison meat. A third contract was awarded for whole-grain blue cornmeal. This product was received by tribes during the 2015 holiday season for use in a wide variety of recipes and cultural dishes. Read more »

Lessons from USDA’s Farmers Market Help Local Food Businesses

A Timber Pizza employee working

Timber Pizza’s success at USDA Farmers Market helped fuel its expansion. (USDA photo by Richard Tyner)

The USDA Farmers Market, next to the Department’s headquarters and steps from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is a “living laboratory” for identifying and testing strategies to help support local and regional food systems.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the market, my colleagues and I at USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which manages the weekly Friday market, tried a few new approaches during the 2015 season.  Our goals were to make the market more successful for vendors and more enticing to visitors.

For example, we opened the market a month early–in May instead of in June.  We also redesigned the layout of the market, allowing us to more than double the number of vendors from 14 to 32. Read more »