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
- Food Access Research Atlas - 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, Gardens and Local Food Marketing:
- AMS Publications and Presentations - Information and reports on farmers markets and local food marketing from USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.
- Local Food Directories - A catalogue of USDA's directories for farmers markets, CSA, food hubs, and on-farm markets. Food Hubs - A catalogue of USDA's findings, resources, and support for food hubs.
- People's Garden Initiative (PGI) - Information on creating a community garden that is a collaborative effort, benefits the community and incorporates sustainable practices.
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook - A guide for accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets.
Farm to School:
- Healthy habits are taking root! The USDA Farm to School Census provides information about how many school districts are purchasing locally produced food for school meal programs or conducting other farm to school activities.
- The USDA Farm to School Grant Program assists eligible entities in implementing farm to school programs that improve access to local foods in eligible schools. On an annual basis, USDA awards competitive grants for training, supporting operations, planning, purchasing equipment, developing school gardens, developing partnerships, and implementing farm to school programs. USDA supports farm to school efforts through other grant programs too; this chart (PDF, 104KB) shows you your options.
- The Farm to School Planning Toolkit guides you through questions to consider and helpful resources to reference when starting or growing a farm to school program. It is designed for use by schools, school districts, and community partners. The toolkit is filled with tips and examples, insights from others, and lists of resources for further research.
- Hungry for more? The Farm to School Program website has more resources for schools, farmers, and communities.
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
- SARE Learning Center - Practical publications for farmers and ag professionals
- Local Harvest - A Multi-farm CSA Handbook
- Farm to Table - Building local and regional food systems
- How to Direct Market Your Beef - Handbook
- Building a Sustainable Business: A Guide to Developing a Business Plan for Farms and Rural Businesses - Handbook
- Rural Development Cooperative Programs - Professional staff carry out research and providing educational trainings, technical assistance, and grant support to co-ops across the country.
- Library of Co-op Publications - Extensive library of over 150 publications, including Rural Cooperatives magazine, and many "how to" guides like:
Starting a Farm/Financing a Farm:
- USDA New Farmers - A one stop shop for USDA resources that can support new and beginning farmers and ranchers.
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 (FSIS)
- State Inspection Programs - Resources for gaining grants of inspection including the Cooperative Interstate Shipment Program.
- Meat, Poultry and Egg Product Inspection Directory - A directory off all establishments inspected by FSIS
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.
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 (DOCX, 52KB). 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.