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 »
Columbia Heights Farmers Market shoppers enjoy locally-produced food. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. Photo courtesy Mr T in DC.
Nutritional classes, purple beets, basil pesto and dark roast coffee – it’s not your father’s farmers market. The entire local food system is maturing and farmers markets are offering more and more community-focused services. Many farmers markets now give their customers a chance to learn about locally-produced foods, in addition to buying and consuming them.
USDA is a proud partner and supporter of local and regional food systems through our programs, grants and technical services. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. One example of an AMS grant success story is Community Foodworks, which manages the Columbia Heights Farmers Market and six other markets across Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia. Read more »
Farm to school programs help kids form healthy habits, learn where their food comes from, and develop an understanding of the importance of nutrition and agriculture.
Back in March, we invited you to vote for the school district with your favorite farm to school program – one with exemplary initiatives, inspiring results; one that you think is ‘one in a melon’!
Well, the results were tabulated and one district in each state has just received the “One in a Melon” award. These districts received the most votes from parents, teachers, community stakeholders, students, and others who recognized the incredible work they’re doing through their farm to school programs. We were so inspired by the nominations we received that we wanted to share a few quotes of them with you, but for a full list of award winners, visit https://farmtoschoolcensus.fns.usda.gov/find-your-school-district. Read more »
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 »
USDA Rural Development RBS Administrator Sam Rikkers and USDA RD State Director Basil Gooden, Ph.D., visit the Shenandoah Organic Valley, a VAPG grant recipient, on April 18th, 2016.
Corwin Heatwole describes himself as quite the stubborn – though innovative – teenager. Leaving home at 17 years of age, this hardworking young man from Harrisonburg, Va. started several successful businesses in his early 20s before he discovered that there was a growing demand for organic chicken in the U.S. In 2013 he bought 300 chickens with not one buyer yet in sight. Now, with the help of USDA, he has more demand than he can handle.
Since that day, Corwin has grown the business from 35 employees to nearly 350 in just 25 months with the assistance of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In October of 2014, Corwin received $200,000 in a working capital Value Added Producers Grant from USDA Rural Development and in January of this year, he also received a $600,000 Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan (B&I). He used the guaranteed loan to upgrade a very old plant with state-of-the-art packaging and processing machines. Without the packaging machines in particular, he noted, he would have never been able to fulfill his growing orders from Costco and Whole Foods. And through this growing business, he has been able to increase his farmers’ end-of-the-year net income by 75 percent. 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 »