Spring is upon us and many local farmers markets are opening with displays of brilliant and vibrant colors. The fresh air has more people talking about and buying local foods. In fact, data from the USDA Economic Research Service suggests that farmers across the country sold an estimated $6.1 billion in locally marketed foods in 2012. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a role in increasing these numbers by creating marketing opportunities for American farmers and local food businesses through the combination of applied research, technical services, and grant support.
As the demand for local food increases, food hubs are one way farmers can deliver more fresh food to retailers, schools, hospitals and restaurants. That’s why expanding local food efforts have focused on creating more food hubs. A food hub is an enterprise that helps farmers collect and gather local and regional agricultural products for distribution and marketing to wholesale, retail, and institutional customers.
AMS offers food hub operators technical assistance for food warehouse design, facility management and physical volume capacities. Organizations and businesses involved in local food systems can use AMS publications, research reports and presentations to better understand and strengthen the local food infrastructure.
For example, one recent resource that AMS published is Building a Food Hub From the Ground Up: A Facility Design Case Study of Tuscarora Organic Growers. This detailed examination of a food hub’s growth gives local food supporters on-the-ground examples of how food hubs manage distribution infrastructure, solutions to warehouse design and how to gain the space capacity for handling a variety of products.
Other valuable AMS local food resources include the USDA’s Local Food Directories. These directories are for farmers markets, food hubs, community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations and on-farm markets. The directories are valuable online tools that connect local food consumers and producers. Searching for a local food business is easy when using this one-stop resource that provides convenient access to directions, operating times, product offerings and more information about various sources of local foods.
Providing technical assistance is just one of the ways that AMS supports the local food sector. For instance, we also offer grants to expand access to healthy food. AMS currently has over $90 million in grant funding available for this key sector. Through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (comprised of the Farmers Market Promotion Program and the Local Food Promotion Program), AMS supports producers, local food entrepreneurs, and rural and urban communities across the country. Grant applications must be submitted electronically through Grants.gov by May 14, 2015. Applicants are encouraged to start the registration process as soon as possible to ensure that they meet the deadline.
USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) initiative coordinates our work as the local food market sector continues to grow. In the past two years alone, USDA has made over 500 investments in food hubs, local processing facilities and distribution networks. The local food movement is alive and well. All of us here at AMS and USDA as a whole are committed to strengthening the local food sector, making sure it is a healthy, established part of the broader marketplace.