Tools and Resources
In addition to programs that support local and regional food systems, USDA and our federal partners offer a wide range of tools that can help farmers, ranchers, other businesses, communities, and individuals looking to build or take advantage of local and regional food systems.
The list below is a selection of these resources. If you have one that we missed, let us know.
Ask the USDA Expert Online - find answers to your questions
USDA Service Center Locator - find your local office for Farm Service, Natural Resources Conservation, and Rural Development agencies
Statistics and Mapping Tools:
- Census of Agriculture - Agricultural statistics for the nation, every state, and every county
- National Farmers Market Directory - A searchable database of farmers markets, updated annually, based on self-reported entries submitted by the markets.
- Food Desert Locator - Maps income level and access to large-scale grocery stores by census tract.
- Food Environment Atlas - A mapping tool with 168 indicators of food, health and community available at the county level.
Farmers Markets and Food Hubs:
- AMS Publications and Presentations - Information on farmers markets and local food marketing from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
- Food Hubs - A catalogue of USDA's findings, resources, and support for food hubs, including a national directory of food hubs updated regularly.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook - A guide for accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets
Farm to School:
- Farm to School Portal: resources from USDA's Farm to School team for schools, farmers, and communities
- "Implementing Farm to School": Guides for school food service professionals and farmers
- Farm to School resources by topic area, from food safety to school gardens
- Annotated bibliography on Farm to School from USDA's National Agricultural Library
Farming Systems Tools:
- Alternative Farming Systems Information Center (AFSIC) - Resources on sustainable food systems and practices from USDA's National Agricultural Library
- Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) - Information for farmers and other rural users on a variety of sustainable agricultural practices
- Agroforestry combines trees and agriculture to enhance long-term production of food and other useful products while protecting natural resources. There are five recognized agroforestry practices: alley cropping, forest farming/multi-story cropping, riparian forest buffers, silvopasture,and windbreaks.
- USDA's Organic Literacy Initiative - resources and training modules for the organic community, USDA employees and those wondering if organic is right for them
- 2012 Organic Resource Guide - a guide to USDA programs that serve organic agriculture
- SARE Learning Center - Practical publications for farmers and ag professionals
- Local Harvest - A Multi-farm CSA Handbook
- How to Direct Market Your Beef - Handbook
- Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses - Handbook
Farm Financing Tools:
- Start2Farm.gov, a project of USDA's National Agricultural Library and the American Farm Bureau Federation to assist people new to farming or ranching and those who have less than 10 years' experience.
Resources on Local Meat and Poultry:
- Biosecurity for Birds - guidance for backyard and pastured poultry producers from USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service
- Small Plant Help Desk - Technical assistance and training materials for small and very small meat processing plants from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service - or call 1-877-FSISHelp (1-877-374-7435).
- eXtension community on small meat processing, including resources from the Niche Meat Processors Assistance Network
- Mobile Slaughter Unit compliance guide from USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service
Economic Research Tools:
- ERS Local Foods Corner - Reports and other tools from USDA's Economic Research Service, including:
- ChooseMyPlate - Tools to help you and your family make healthier food choices
- Growing a Healthier You - Nutrition information "from the farm to your table"
Tools from Other Federal Partners:
- Appalachian Regional Commission: Assessing the Landscape of Local Food in Appalachia. This May 2012 report examines the breadth and depth of the local food movement in the 13 states and 420 counties of the Appalachian Region, describes best practices and available resources, and analyzes gaps and opportunities for expanding this growing sector of the economy.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Healthier Foods in Communities page, from the Making Health Easier.org website. Post and share resources, learn about community strategies like farmers markets and gardens, and participate in discussions with other communities engaged in this work.
- Department of the Treasury: Financing Healthy Food Options Resource Bank. Training curricula and webinars for Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) on financing for local food systems, lending to food producers, and supporting other sources of healthy food in communities.
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): Urban Agriculture and Improving Local, Sustainable Food Systems website. Contains tools and resources for people pursuing agriculture projects as a part of brownfield redevelopment and reuse.
- EPA, Department of Housing and Urban Development and Department of Transportation: Partnership for Sustainable Communities Urban Farm Business Plan Handbook (PDF, 1.5MB). A tool for urban communities interested in turning abandoned properties into community gardens and farms. The handbook provides guidance for developing a business plan for the startup and operation of an urban farm.
- Farm Credit Administration: Providing Credit to Farmers and Ranchers Operating in Local/Regional Food Systems (PDF, 162KB). A guidance document or "bookletter" to institutions in the Farm Credit System about meeting the credit and services needs of local food farmers and certain farm-related businesses, such as food hubs, under existing statutes and regulations.
- Farm Credit Council: The Emergence of Retail Agriculture - Its Outlook, Capital Needs and Role in Supporting Young, Beginning and Small Farmers (PDF, 4.6MB). Disseminated by FCC to its 88 Farm Credit System lending associations, this report explains challenges and opportunities for farmers and ranchers selling locally to help lenders better understand their needs.
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Local Catch (PDF, 256KB). A list of resources and examples of local fisheries projects funded through NOAA's Sea Grant program, including community-supported fisheries and local seafood brand development.