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Anne Alonzo

New York State of Mind: Empowering Women and Creating Local Food Opportunities

The future of agriculture depends on the next generation of farmers and ranchers.  That’s why the Department of Agriculture is committed to creating more opportunities for new and beginning farmers and removing barriers for women and minority farmers.

To advance these priorities, I traveled to Syracuse, N.Y., last week, where I was joined by my USDA state colleagues and New York State Commissioner of Agriculture Richard Ball for a roundtable on Women in Agriculture and Local Foods at the Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (WISE) Center in Syracuse, N.Y.  The discussion focused on the big picture of how a thriving local food system can help women succeed as farmers, ranchers, and entrepreneurs.  We had a vibrant conversation that ranged from sharing ideas to creating valuable connections and networks to mapping out strategies for further progress.

USDA Agencies Lead Local Food Discussion in Omaha

I was thrilled to join USDA colleagues at the first-of-its-kind “Local Foods for Local Tables” conference in Omaha, Neb., on Friday, Aug. 14, 2015.  USDA Rural Development (RD) State Director Maxine Moul and the office of Congressman Brad Ashford led the effort to bring together groups and community members with the common goal of promoting local foods. Along with RD state leadership, the event featured Farm Service Agency (FSA) State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) State Conservationist Craig Derickson, all of whom serve on the Nebraska State Food and Agriculture Council (SFAC).  They brought together a panel of public servants who are experts in their field, as well as community leaders who are on the front lines of bringing fresh, healthy food to the American table. 

With more than 150 people in attendance, there was tremendous energy in the room. The discussions were lively and the ideas inspired! For everyone sitting in the room – whether a volunteer gardener or a state conservationist – it was a great opportunity to learn about programs and initiatives right in their backyard that are supporting local and regional food systems.  I had the privilege of serving as the keynote speaker during the luncheon, which was prepared using delicious, locally-sourced foods. I shared how my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), plays a key role in providing technical assistance, awarding grants, and conducting research that contribute to ongoing efforts in Nebraska and across the country to strengthen local and regional food systems.  Elanor Starmer from the Office of the Secretary also attended and talked about the Department-wide Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative to support local food.

Listening and Learning From Local Food Stakeholders in New Mexico

As part of National Farmers Market Week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne L. Alonzo and I traveled to New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment. The bustling Santa Fe Farmers Market was the perfect place to kick off the week! While there, we also traveled to the beautiful countryside and met with key local food stakeholders during a special session and visits to local farms.  

The round table forum and farm visits allowed farmers, ranchers, and local food organizations to share their experiences. We heard from Danny Farrar, who owns Rancho La Jolla in Velarde and is also a member of the Farm to School Board of Directors. He told us that many of the northern New Mexico farmers who sell at farmers markets are growing fruits and vegetables on small family farms of just 3 to 5 acres and on land passed down through generations. He told us that keeping his land as a working farm is as important to his culture and heritage as it is to its profitability.

On the Road in Santa Fe - Saluting Farmers Markets All the Way

Greetings from New Mexico, the Land of Enchantment!  I’m here at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, where local farmers and ranchers have come together to sell their goods to the community for more than 50 years.  This popular farmers market started with just a handful of growers and now has more than 100 vendors, more than any other in the state.  It’s the perfect place to celebrate all that farmers markets do for rural and urban communities around the country by kicking off the 16th annual National Farmers Market Week.

Audio story from USDA Radio available on the USDA website.

The growth in Santa Fe’s market mirrors what is happening across the country – Americans want to get to know their farmers and learn where their food comes from.  Farmers markets like this one are at the heart of many towns and cities, attracting foot traffic and customers to brick and mortar stores, bringing together rural and urban Americans, and creating jobs and opportunities for local farmers and ranchers.  That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), is always looking for innovative ways to help farmers markets succeed.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Gayle Goschie

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Gayle Goschie, a third-generation hop grower on a farm her family has owned in Silverton, Oregon, for 130 years. Goschie Farms grows 550 acres of hops and sells to some of the nation’s top breweries. The farm also grows 150 acres of wine grapes that are sold to regional wineries and 300+ acres of other crops including grass seed, corn and wheat.

Gayle was the first woman hop grower to be awarded the International Order of the Hop in 2009, the highest honor in the International hop community and an award which her father also received in 1984. We talked about her love for the outdoors, including the beautiful hikes she takes in the Willamette Valley. She strongly believes in our responsibility to conserve and improve our lands not only as good business sense but critical to building future farm leaders.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Casey Cox

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Casey Cox, the Executive Director of the Flint River Soil and Water Conservation District. In this role, she manages the Flint River Partnership, an agricultural water conservation initiative formed by the Flint River SWCD, USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and The Nature Conservancy.

Casey is also learning her family's farm operation Longleaf Ridge, and will be the sixth generation of her family to farm along the Flint River. Upon receiving a Bachelor of Science in Natural Resource Conservation from the University of Florida, she returned to South Georgia to support agriculture and ongoing conservation efforts in her local community.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Cory Carman

As part of our ongoing #womeninag series, we are highlighting a different leading woman in agriculture each month.  This month, we profile Cory Carman. Cory’s family has been ranching in Wallowa, Oregon since 1913. After graduating from Stanford with an environmental policy degree and working in Washington, DC and in Los Angeles, Cory returned to rural Oregon in 2003.  She now runs Carman Ranch with her husband, Dave Flynn and business partner Jill McLaran. 

Today, Carman Ranch specializes in grass fed beef and is engaged in multiple cooperative habitat and ecosystem restoration projects.  Cory works with local ranchers to explore collective marketing options for locally raised beef to restaurants, wholesalers and other buyers in Oregon.

Growing with the Times, Expanded USDA Farmers Market Opens for 20th Season

This morning, Secretary Tom Vilsack and I kicked off the 20th season of the USDA Farmers Market.  It was quite a celebration, complete with balloons, ribbon cutting and bell ringing!  The market underwent a major redesign and expansion this year to make room for twice as many vendors as we’ve had in the past.  Featuring everything from fresh oysters to delicious pastries to crisp lettuce, today’s market is full of delicious offerings from local farmers, ranchers and food businesses.   

I am so proud that my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, has managed this market for the past 20 years, turning it into a true gathering place for USDA and its neighbors, including Washington, D.C.-area employees, residents in Ward 2 and visitors to the National Mall.  The USDA Farmers Market also provides a great business opportunity for entrepreneurs.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Naomi Starkman

In agriculture we know that the work of women in our field reaches far beyond one month out of the year and should be celebrated every day. We got such a great response to our Women’s History Month weekly profiles in March that we will now be expanding to a monthly series. We will continue to feature women leaders across agriculture who are opening doors for their peers and contributing to the larger conversation about #womeninag.

To help us get started, this month, we profile Naomi Starkman, the founder and editor-in-chief of Civil Eats. Naomi is also a founding board member and advisor to the Food & Environment Reporting Network. A recovering lawyer, Naomi has worked as a media consultant at The New Yorker and Newsweek magazines and on several farms.

In Conversation with #WomeninAg: Dr. Jewel Hairston

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we are taking a moment to talk with prominent women in agriculture about their lives, their ideas about leadership, and how their day gets off to a good start.

Dr. Jewel Hairston is currently the Dean of the College of Agriculture at Virginia State University. As Dean, she leads in developing the strategic vision and plan for the college and develops and fosters partnership with other universities, as well as local, state and federal agencies and organizations across the state of Virginia to offer competitive educational programs to students and diverse stakeholders.