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farmers markets

USDA Offers Grants to Help Expand Marketing and Local Food Opportunities

If there is one word that best embodies agriculture, it is entrepreneurship. Over the course of my time at USDA, I’ve had the chance to meet with farmers, ranchers and food business of all sizes and in all parts of the country. The faces of these entrepreneurs and their innovative strategies and business models reflect the diversity that makes this country strong.  Each year, USDA helps thousands of agricultural producers and businesses enhance their marketing efforts and bring healthy, nutritious food to communities– and I’m excited that this week, we’ve announced another opportunity to support their work.

My agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), announced the availability of more than $27 million in grants to help ensure the livelihoods of our nation’s farmers and ranchers while strengthening rural economies. The announcement included $26 million in AMS grant funding from the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program through the Local Food Marketing Promotion Program (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP).

Helping States Build an Agricultural Future

Specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, nuts and nursery crops—are an agricultural and dietary staple.  They’re a central part of a healthy diet and are vital to the economic success of American agriculture and to the farmers and businesses that rely on them for their livelihoods.

That’s why my agency, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, works to support and expand markets for specialty crop growers and producers.  This year, through our Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, we awarded $62.5 million to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories to support critical work related to this segment of the agricultural industry.

Growing Rural Economies and Opportunities through Social Media

From Facebook to Snapchat, rural businesses are exploring how to use social media to improve their customer’s experience and expand their customer base. Over the last eight years, USDA and the Obama Administration have partnered with rural communities to build more opportunities that support rural small business owners, farmers and ranchers through applied research.   Today USDA awarded nearly $1 million in Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP) grants to support market research to strengthen markets for U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally.

Administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), FSMIP projects make a real difference to diverse stakeholders and largely benefit rural communities.  For example, in 2013, FSMIP awarded a 2-year grant to Kansas State University to develop social media strategies for small green businesses, including nurseries, garden centers and lawn care operations, and to explore the potential of social media to expand their markets and profitability.  Social media holds promise as a strategy for these rural businesses which frequently have a small customer base and struggle to be profitable throughout the year, given the seasonal nature of their business.  Through social media, business owners could reach more potential customers for little to no cost but they often do not know how or why they should use these tools.

Farm to School Goes Year Round in the Northeast

Over the past few summers, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs have been elevating meal quality and encouraging program participation by serving seasonal menus, utilizing high quality ingredients, and providing nutrition education activities. We’ve heard of such farm to summer activities – the embedding of farm to school principles within summer meals programs – from practitioners all around the country. Here in the Northeast, summer 2016 brought a wave of coordinated programming, and National Farm to School Month is the perfect time to celebrate this trend that is supporting healthy kids and communities all year long!

Growing Local Food Means Growing Opportunities

With sales of over $11 billion in 2014 and projected growth of 10 percent annually, local and regionally-produced food is the fastest growing sector of American agriculture. At USDA, we hear a lot from communities interested in strengthening the connection between farmers and consumers. That’s why we’re investing in projects across the country to help farm and food businesses tap into this growing market.

Yesterday, USDA announced more than $56 million in grants to support local and community food projects, including a program administered by my agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program awarded over $26 million in competitive grants, divided equally between the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP).

Farmers Market Managers: Innovative Entrepreneurs Meeting Community Needs

The demand for local food is strong and growing. To meet the growing demand, farmers market managers are becoming creative entrepreneurs who connect rural America to urban and suburban businesses.

Last week, during National Farmers Market Week, I had the pleasure of visiting Crofton Farmers Market in Crofton, Maryland, to recognize state and local efforts to bring fresh foods and economic growth into their community. During my visit, I was given a tour of the market by market managers, Chad Houck and Scott Hariton, who are business partners with a passion for their community.

It's Not Too Late to Celebrate National Farmers Market Week!

National Farmers Market Week is a good example of why I say it’s an exciting time to be in agriculture. More than ever, all segments of the food industry are coming together to provide consumers with foods fresh from the farm, and farmers markets lead the way.

As I visited markets in Alexandria, La., and Greenwood, S.C.—and right here in Washington, D.C.—I saw firsthand the positive impact of farmers markets on the businesses and communities around them.  And, through our 2015 Market Managers Survey results, we know that across the nation farmers markets are helping build businesses and bring communities together.

Farmers Markets Bring Farm-Fresh Foods & Fun to Summer Meals

This National Farmers Market Week, we celebrate a growing national trend that exemplifies the power of partnership in achieving common goals. Across the country, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are joining forces with their local farmers markets, realizing a multitude of shared benefits.  These partnerships increase access to the local seasonal bounty the summer months have to offer and help keep kids and their families nourished and active while school is out. Check out how three communities are taking full advantage of all that farmers markets during the summer months!

Des Moines Farmer's Market Offers Bumper Crop of Healthy Options for SNAP and WIC Clients

They show up early and eager to capture the freshest produce Iowa farmers have to offer.  The Des Moines, Iowa Downtown Farmer’s Market held Saturday mornings from May to October is a success in terms of the variety of fresh produce it offers, the local economic benefits, and in the opportunities it provides for SNAP and WIC clients to utilize their benefits in healthy new ways.

At the start of National Farmers Market Week Aug. 7-14, Angie Tagtow, Executive Director of USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP) talked with Kelly Foss, Director of the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market as they toured nine city blocks filled with a massive array of healthy and creative food options.

Pavilions, Food Hubs and Community Kitchens - Designing for Local Food Systems

Today, we celebrated National Farmers Market Week at Uptown Market in Greenwood, South Carolina, highlighting USDA support for the local food sector in South Carolina and across the country. Uptown Market Manager, Stephanie Turner, and Greenwood Mayor Welborn Adams joined us in thanking the farmers and vendors, and recognizing the great benefits their market has brought to the local community.  The Uptown Market is a special place for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), with a special connection to my program and work we do.

In 2013, AMS Architect, Fidel Delgado, got involved in providing technical assistance for the design and development of the new Uptown Market pavilion.  We worked with city officials, businesses leaders and local farmers to understand the community needs for the farmers market. The planned site was originally a railroad station and inspired the design that mimics a train station to fit the historic character of the town.  From our visit today, it is clear this market is creating business opportunity and serving as a community resource.