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 small businesses that store, process, market and distribute food locally and regionally. Local food sales were estimated to be worth $5 billion nationally in 2008, and by 2011, industry estimates put the market at $7 billion. The National Grocers Association and the National Restaurant Association have identified local foods as a #1 trend in their industries for several years running.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture indicates that 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. They're tapping in to growing consumer demand for locally-grown food; consumers want to support their local economy when they purchase food, whether that's at a farmers market, a grocery store, or their workplace cafeteria.
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.
Improving infrastructure to connect producers with new markets
- USDA has helped create strong regional supply chains and the jobs that come with them. In FY13 alone, USDA facilitated the creation of over 170 new markets for local foods including food hubs, scale-appropriate processing facilities, and distribution networks that connect rural producers with new sources of revenue and create employment opportunities.
- Direct sales opportunities, such as farmers markets, 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 (FMPP), providing assistance to nearly 450 projects nationwide to grow and expand farmers markets. USDA's National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 farmers markets nationwide, an increase of 76% since 2008. Recognizing the success of FMPP, Congress expanded the program in the 2014 Farm Bill.
- With USDA support, the number of food hubs has risen by 65% since 2009, and more than 260 are now operational around the country. According to a comprehensive survey by Michigan State University of food hubswhich aggregate products from small and midsize farms and distribute them to large-volume buyers, such as grocery stores, in the local regionon average, each food hub supports 20 jobs and generates nearly $4 million in annual sales.
- Since 2009, USDA has provided assistance to help producers construct over 13,000 high tunnels on farms around the country. These low-cost greenhouses extend the growing season, reduce input costs, conserve natural resources and make locally-grown produce available later into the year.
- USDA has increased opportunities for small and midsized livestock and poultry producers. Since its launch in 2009, USDA's Small Plant Help Desk has responded to over 10,000 inquiries from small and very small meat processing plants, helping them maintain high standards for food safety.
- USDA established agreements with Indiana, Ohio, North Dakota and Wisconsin to allow approved small, state-inspected meat processors to ship their products across state borders, where previously they could only sell and ship products within their states. There are currently 9 plants participating in this program. While interstate shipment may not sound like a local food issue, these agreements allow small meat processors to access major markets right across state borders.
- USDA has provided more than 8,400 microloans to farmers and ranchers in all 50 states since January 2013. This program provides smaller loans of up to $35,000 for small-scale producers who can also take advantage of local marketing opportunities. By the end of the year, the loan limit will be raised to $50,000.
Improving Access to Healthy, Local Food and Broadening Producers' Customer Base
- Through financial support and technical assistance, USDA has expanded the number of farmers markets that accept nutrition benefits electronically, thereby helping more families to purchase healthy food. Currently, more than 5,000 farmers markets roadside stands and pick-your-own operations across America are authorized to accept SNAP. The number of locations where SNAP benefits can be used to purchase food directly from farmers has increased by five times since 2008, when there were just 753 such locations.
- These efforts have also boosted producer revenues. Between FY11 and FY13, the amount of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets nearly doubled, from $11 million to $21 million.
- USDA also supports communities that use local food as a strategy to reduce food insecurity. Since 2009, USDA has provided $24 million to 131 Community Food Project awards in 48 states to help communities improve access to healthy, local food. In 2013 alone, USDA awarded $4.87 million through this program to 26 projects in 15 states and Washington, DC.
- USDA also helps 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 nearly $10 million for 139 Farm to School projects to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In the 2012-2013 school year alone, school districts spent $386 million on locally and regionally-sourced food.
- 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. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass maps nearly 3,000 federal investments in local and regional food made by USDA and eleven other Federal Agencies since 2009. It is searchable by zip code, key word and USDA program. In the spirit of open government and transparency, all of the data on the map are downloadable, searchable and updated annually.