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Local and Regional Food Systems

A surge in consumer demand for locally-produced food is creating jobs and opportunity throughout rural America for farms as well as the small businesses that store, process, market and distribute food locally and regionally. USDA data indicate that local food sales totaled at least $6.1 billion in 2012; industry sources estimate the market's value could hit $20 billion by 2019.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that more than 160,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are tapping into growing consumer demand by selling their products locally. This segment of agriculture is a vibrant growth area that is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs and improving quality of life in rural communities.

Over the past six years, USDA has strengthened local and regional food systems by investing in projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities for small businesses and increase access to healthy foods.

Helped Farmers and Ranchers Explore New, Local Markets

  • Increased support for farmers and ranchers developing new products to sell locally. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of Value Added Producer Grants awarded to local food projects jumped by more than 500 percent. During the 2013-2014 funding cycle, USDA dedicated nearly $11 million - nearly half of the awarded funds - to 116 unique local food projects through this program.
  • Helped producers construct over 13,000 high tunnels on farms around the country since 2009. These low-cost greenhouses extend the growing season, reduce input costs, conserve natural resources and make locally-grown produce available for a greater portion of the year.
  • Provided 10,000 microloans to farmers and ranchers in all 50 states, many of whom take advantage of local marketing opportunities, since the program was launched in January 2013. This program provides smaller loans of up to $50,000 for small-scale producers.

Improved Infrastructure to Connect Producers with New Markets

  • Made over 500 investments in local food infrastructure - including food hubs, local processing facilities and distribution networks - to help connect farmers and consumers and create jobs all along the supply chain for local food. These investments help to create strong regional supply chains and the jobs that come with them.
  • Invested in direct sales opportunities like farmers markets that keep more of the food dollar in farmers' pockets and improve consumer access to fresh, healthy and local food. USDA has invested in the future of farmers markets through the Farmers Market Promotion Program since 2009. Recognizing the success of this program, Congress expanded the Farmers Market Promotion Program to include the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program, which supports the aggregation, distribution, storage, and processing of local food, and tripled overall program funding. In 2014, its inaugural year, the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program funded 191 projects totaling $12.7 million. That same year, the Farmers Market Promotion Program funded 183 projects totaling $14.4 million. USDA data indicate that the number of farmers markets nationwide has increased by 180 percent between 2006 and 2014.
  • Nearly doubled the number of food hubs since 2009, with more than 300 now operational around the country thanks in part to support from USDA. Food hubs aggregate products from small and midsize farms and distribute them to large-volume buyers, such as grocery stores, in the local region. According to a comprehensive survey by Michigan State University, on average, each food hub supports 20 jobs and generates nearly $4 million in annual sales.
  • Increased opportunities for small and midsized livestock and poultry producers who depend on access to scale-appropriate slaughter facilities. USDA's Small Plant Help Desk responds to an average of 1,000 inquiries per month from small and very small meat processing plants, helping them maintain high standards for food safety.

Improved Access to Healthy, Local Food

  • Expanded the number of farmers markets that accept nutrition benefits electronically, thereby helping more families to purchase healthy food. As of January 2015, over 5,300 farmers' markets and direct-marketing farmers were SNAP-authorized, an increase of approximately 600 percent since 2008.
  • These efforts also benefit the producers who sell at farmers markets. In fiscal year 2008, annual SNAP redemptions at farmers' markets and direct marketing farmer were approximately $2.7 million. In fiscal year 2014, annual SNAP redemptions rose to $18.8 million, an increase of approximately 600 percent.
  • Supported communities that use local food as a strategy to reduce food insecurity. Since 2009, USDA has provided $28.8 million to 154 Community Food Project awards in 48 states to help communities improve access to healthy, local food.
  • Helped producers tap into the market for local and regional foods in schools, which are now serving healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks. Since 2013, USDA has provided over $15 million for 221 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In the 2011-2012 school year alone, school districts spent $386 million on locally and regionally-sourced food.
  • Expanded consumers' access to information about local food through our National Farmers Market Directory, which now lists over 8,200 farmers markets nationwide. USDA has since launched several new Local Food Directories for Community Supported Agriculture enterprises, food hubs, and on-farm stores.

Sharing USDA's Tools That Support Local Food Systems

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative is a one-stop shop for resources and information about USDA programs and support for local and regional food systems. In addition to featuring information about relevant grants, loans, research and other tools, the KYF2 website features the Compass, which maps over 4,500 federally funded local food projects on the Compass Map from USDA and 11 other federal agencies. In the spirit of open government and transparency, all of the data on the map are downloadable, searchable and updated annually.