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Posts tagged: small farmers

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 »

Talking Local Food: Measuring Progress and Creating Opportunities

Local Food Hub’s Kristen Suokko, Bee Thorp, Susan Hill with USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary Elvis Cordova

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 »

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 »

Unlocking the Toolkit for Stronger Local Food Systems

El Bosque Garlic Farms' hand-tied garlic

Investing in local food systems creates market opportunities for businesses entrepreneurs to sell fresh local products in unique ways. El Bosque Garlic Farms sells their hand-tied garlic at the Santa Fe Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of Peter Wood, USDA.

Every community wants to support initiatives that promote economic growth and create new jobs, but sometimes it can be hard to decide on the best way to accomplish these goals.  Now there is a new resource to help communities make the economic case for investments in local food. Today, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of “The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices” at the Good Food Festival’s Financing and Innovation Conference in Chicago. Secretary Vilsack highlighted USDA’s continued support of local and regional food systems, much of which is coordinated through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative. Read more »

USDA Grants to Help Farmers, Entrepreneurs and Retailers Market Local Foods

Baskets of fruits and vegetables on tables

Across the nation there is a strong interest to supply healthy, local foods to schools while supporting regional farmers and the local economy. Photo: Auburn University College of Agriculture.

Thanks to a recent grant from USDA, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection is now in better position to help get locally grown potatoes, carrots, apples, broccoli, and cheese onto school lunch plates. In Wisconsin, and across the nation, there is a strong interest to supply healthy, local foods to schools while supporting regional farmers and the local economy.  USDA is helping create economic opportunities for producers by supporting projects that increase access to fresh, healthy food for students and consumers, and connect rural and urban communities.

Today Secretary Tom Vilsack announced more than $35 million in grants to help ensure the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers and ranchers while strengthening rural economies around the country. These grant programs play an important role in American agriculture and in communities by supporting local and regional food systems and giving farmers and ranchers the chance to explore new market opportunities. Read more »