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Increasing Access to Locally Grown and Healthy Food

Posted by Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan in Food and Nutrition Farming Initiatives
Feb 21, 2017

Cross posted from the White House blog:

Three years ago, I was asked to participate in the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, out of which grew the First Lady’s Let's Move! initiative. In May 2010, we submitted a report to the President that made a series of recommendations for addressing the challenges of obesity and hunger, both of which stem from a lack of access to good, healthy food.  The report identified local food systems as a strategy to combat food access problems, and specifically called upon the USDA "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" Initiative to provide technical and financial assistance to help communities grow and process their own food, and create jobs at the same time.

I’m pleased to report that we’ve made a lot of progress since 2009 – and we have two new tools to help communities learn about what we’ve done and tap into USDA resources to develop their own solutions. The new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass is a document packed with photos, video and case studies of communities building strong local food systems. Farmers’ markets, mobile produce vendors, farm to school initiatives, and food hubs are just a few of many examples highlighted by the Compass. The Healthy Food Access section (PDF, 444 KB) shows how communities are using USDA resources to promote health and the local economy.

These students at Dayton Elementary in Dayton, Nevada harvest potatoes from their school’s garden. The story of how local food is helping increase healthy food access in their community, and many others stories like it, are in USDA’s new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.
These students at Dayton Elementary in Dayton, Nevada harvest potatoes from their school’s garden. The story of how local food is helping increase healthy food access in their community, and many others stories like it, are in USDA’s new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.

USDA also developed an interactive map showing USDA investments nationwide related to local food systems. You can sort the data by theme and identify projects on healthy food access. The map is a great way to see what’s happening in your own community and learn from other successful projects.  Explore them, share them, and join the conversation over Twitter using the hashtag #KYF2.

The many success stories highlighted in the Compass show just how much progress our country is making when it comes to healthy food access. In New Haven, Connecticut, a city where one in four people live in poverty, a Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan from USDA helped construct the first full-service grocery store in the inner city in 2011. Elm City Market created 100 new jobs for local residents with salaries starting at twice the minimum wage.  But the community didn’t stop there: the store is sourcing over half of its products from producers within 200 miles of the city. The store reports brisk business, serving community members that previously lacked access to the products grown just miles away from them.

Retail infrastructure like Elm City Market is just one way that USDA is expanding access to healthy, local food. Schools are another place where we’ve made tremendous progress – by investing in new school kitchen equipment to help cafeterias store and use more local food; by getting kids active in school gardens through our People’s Garden School Pilot; and by developing a toolkit for producers and school foodservice personnel on farm to school programs. KYF2’s Farm to School Team traveled to 15 schools around the country to learn about how they’re making change and document it in a summary report. You can read about this work and more in the Compass section on Farm to School initiatives (PDF, 996 KB). We will also be posting lots more stories on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food blog.

We’ve come a long way since 2009, but there’s no question that we still have miles to go. We can’t expand healthy food access if we limit ourselves to one or two strategies; it’s about using every tool in the toolbox to create community-specific solutions. Local food systems are one strategy with the potential to reap many benefits. I could not be more proud of the role USDA is playing in supporting this exciting, innovative, and life-changing work, nor more grateful for the strong support we receive from the First Lady and the President.

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Jane Konrad
Mar 22, 2012

We help at another level with our "Environment and Health: A systems Approach" program - tested for 3 years in area schools. One topic area is the obesity crisis - including agricultural practices, nutrition, foods, gardens etc. we have developed a basic kit and also an extension (deeper) kit for this topic area.

Diana Garcia-Padilla
Mar 23, 2012

Dear Sirs,
I thank you for all your efforts on helping the people in the united states come back to home grown and healthy eating. You have given us many great programs. One problem, the people who are responsible for implementing them and helping farmers, individuals get started don't seem to care for the new farming ways. They only care about the big farmers. We need someone to make them care about helping create success stories. Please check out my web sites and you will see we care and are attempting to help know your farmer know your food, help to create new farmers. But we are not getting any help from the local office FSA nor USDA Rural Development nor the local UTPA university to get our projects going. Unfortunately they are the ones who either have the grants or give the grants. Please help us address our concerns.

Our farm is featured in the following videos.

Texas Department of State Heath
Texas! Bringing Healthy Back Presents: Growing Community
Watch the videos
Watch an Overview of the Growing Community Video Series
Increasing Fruits and Vegetables

Quest Lakes
Mar 24, 2012

With outstanding support from the USDA, and partnerships among farmers, schools, clubs, and other volunteers, Healthy Communities Coalition of Lyon and Storey Counties in rural northern Nevada has been able to begin developing a healthy food hub composed of multiple organic school & community gardens (see page 54 of the new Know Your Farmer compass for one example), farmers markets with local produce, volunteer-powered food pantries, food co-ops, etc. The new Compass tool is extremely useful - thank you! The People's Garden map is also very helpful (for an example in our area, see "Silver City, Nevada People's Garden") (

PM Walsh
Mar 24, 2012

Great strides under this administration in this area.
Hats of the the folks retooling the US food supply chain.

Rural access to -fresh clean and fresh cooked- locally grown foods really add value at the farmer level. The SNAP program is successful in the S.P.A.C.E. farmers market In the rural community of Seaview Kalapana Hawaii. Small Estate Farms sell direct the end user gets a good deal too.

Bob Gardner
Apr 06, 2012

It's nice to see our school featured in your article. We have already begun to plant seeds and transplant seedlings the students started in our classrooms for this year's garden. Wish us luck, Mr. Gardner