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. Industry data indicate that local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014 and estimate that the market value could hit $20 billion by 2019.
Between 2009 and 2015, from the smallest on-farm projects like high tunnels, to large-scale investments like food hubs, USDA has invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects. 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 seven 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. From 2009 to 2015, the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program has strengthened the market for specialty crops like fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops by funding 5,484 projects totaling $392.9 million and brought more specialty produce to markets everywhere. During the 2014-2015 funding cycle alone, USDA dedicated nearly $14 million, nearly half of the awarded funds, to 116 unique local food projects through this program.
- Helped producers construct over 15,000 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 over 18,000 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
- Between 2009 and 2015, USDA has invested over $1 billion in more than 40,000 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects.
- Made over 900 investments in local food infrastructure since 2014 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 data indicate that the number of farmers markets nationwide has increased by 93.3 percent between 2006 and 2014. Investments in farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer local food marketing activities through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), have provided $60 million in assistance for over 900 projects nationwide since 2009.
- In recognition of the success of FMPP, in 2014, Congress expanded FMPP to include the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), which supports more complex local food supply chains including aggregation, distribution, storage and processing of local food. LFPP has funded over 350 projects totaling nearly $25 million since it launched.
- 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. Over 6,400 farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers now accept SNAP benefits.
- 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. They rose to $19.4 million by 2015 an increase of approximately 620 percent, showing the high demand for fresh, local foods for families trying to make ends meet.
- Supported communities that use local food as a strategy to reduce food insecurity. Since 2009, USDA has provided $37.4 million to 186 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 $19 million for 295 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In the 2013-14 school year alone, school districts spent nearly $800 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 8,500 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 4,200 federal investments in local and regional food made by USDA and 9 other Federal Agencies since 2009. In the spirit of open government and transparency, all of the data on the map are downloadable, searchable and updated annually.