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Innovation Grows Local Food Economies in New York State

Consumers expect a lot from local food. They want it to be fresh, healthy and raised responsibly. They want it to be affordable and convenient. And, they want their purchase to support local farmers. At first glance these goals seem at odds with each other. How can local food improve farmers’ bottom lines without being expensive? Is it possible to efficiently deliver local food to (mostly) urban consumers while still supporting (mostly) rural farm economies?

The answer may look something like Field Goods, an innovative food hub and social enterprise based in eastern New York State. Like other food hubs, Field Goods helps facilitate the connection between producer and consumer. By providing distribution and aggregation services, Field Goods helps reduce producers’ costs. And, for consumers, Field Goods delivers fresh, affordable and local products directly to workplaces – making it easier to support local producers.

Mississippi Farmers Expanding Opportunities with Up in Farms

“Not today,” said Mr. Leonard Keyes as he and Dr. John Stanley surveyed the plot of land on Keyes’ farm in Mize, Mississippi. “Too dry.” Stanley stood beside him holding a tray of squash transplants and nodding his head in agreement.

Earlier that morning, Stanley, sourcing manager for Up in Farms Food Hub, had visited the farm of Mr. James Gregory about 30 miles down the road in Florence. He’d brought Gregory some of the same transplants—some nice-looking seedlings from Standing Pine Nursery in Byram. John had stood beside Gregory, too, and surveyed that plot of land. “Not today,” said Gregory. “Too wet!”

First Ever Native American Food Hub Created in New Mexico

The air was crisp and cold as the wind blew across Sandia Pueblo in mid-December.  But, the atmosphere among the Ten Southern Pueblo Governor’s Council was warm and jovial.

Why? Because, the Governors were celebrating the obligation of a USDA Rural Development funded study that creates the first ever Native American Food Hub in the nation.

Local Food Leaders Take a Break to Hang Out

What do Tristan Reader of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA), Amy Bacigalupo of the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota, Haile Johnston of Common Market in Philadelphia and Michael Todd’s environmental studies class at Ames High School in Ames, IA have in common? They’re all building connections between farms and consumers and creating strong local food systems in their communities.  And all joined me for a Google+ Hangout – a live, virtual panel – on Thursday, November 21 to discuss their work.

There is amazing energy surrounding the development of local food systems in communities nationwide, and our discussion certainly reflected that. But it also came at a time of uncertainty. Congress has yet to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs bill, the major piece of legislation funding USDA’s local food efforts (along with many other critical programs). Until a bill is passed, many of the key resources for producers, businesses and communities engaged in local food systems are without funding. That reality lent a sense of urgency to some of the topics we discussed.

Taking the Summer On: AMS Interns Gain Valuable Experience

Without farmers and the agricultural businesses that support them, no one can eat. This is a simple concept, but it implies that people will continue to choose careers in agriculture. Here at USDA, one of the ways that we encourage younger generations to choose these careers is offering grants to institutions that offer agricultural curriculums. 

Through the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA enables students to expand their knowledge of the agricultural industry. NIFA provides grants to schools such as the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM) through the Hispanic Serving Institutions Program. This allows these institutions to offer top-notch agricultural curriculums.

USDA, Helping Small Rural Businesses Grow and Create Jobs

Last month, I joined Secretary Vilsack in announcing National Small Business Week on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Louisiana. In support of rural small businesses, USDA announced several funding opportunities across the country for business owners to increase their capacity to hire new workers and expand their businesses. Small Businesses are the lifeblood of every community, but in a rural town one small business can mean the difference between a thriving main street and empty windows. This is why the work that USDA does on behalf of rural America is so important.

The state office for Rural Development is located in Central Louisiana where I met State Director Clarence Hawkins and his staff before we headed out to visit local businesses. The first stop was Consolidated Energy Holdings in Pollock. A variety of waste sources is produced by the company. Later, I had the opportunity to speak at the Cenla Small Business Appreciation Luncheon at the Central Louisiana Business Incubator in Alexandria. I was so inspired by the business incubator, which the city started as a workforce training facility for those with the desire to grow and expand their businesses. The incubator provides business owners with growth strategies, financing options, resources, and administrative support to name a few. There is an industrial kitchen available to use for food based business opportunities and specialty food producers. This incubator is the epitome of what small communities across rural America should be doing, making investments in their own citizens to foster job growth.

Online Resource Helps Producers Get Products to Market, Bolster Local and Regional Economies

Just because a producer works at a smaller operation doesn’t mean he or she can’t sell on a bigger scale. And the size of a farm shouldn’t limit a producer’s ability to feed local foods to local people. But how can such an operation connect the dots to successfully market its products?

One answer lies in a new kind of business model known as food hubs, which are emerging as critical pillars for building stronger regional and local food systems.  A food hub centralizes the business management structure to facilitate the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.

Food Hubs: Creating Opportunities for Producers Across the Nation

As I talk to farmers across the country, regardless of what they produce or where, they all share one common challenge:  how to best move product from the farm to the marketplace.  This is especially crucial for small and midsize farmers who may not have enough capital to own their own trucks, their own refrigeration units, or their own warehouse space.  They might not have the resources to develop sophisticated distribution routes, build effective marketing campaigns or network with regional buyers and customers.

Without infrastructure, logistical and marketing support, these producers might be growing the sweetest strawberries or raising the most tender beef, but they lack the infrastructure support to get their exceptional products to your table.

Deputy Secretary Merrigan Discusses Local Foods and Ag policy with University Students in Oregon

On March 3rd, Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan gave an informative speech about USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative to a packed crowd of Portland State University (PSU) students and faculty.  As both a PSU graduate student of Public Administration and a new employee with USDA Rural Development in Oregon, I was impressed by USDA’s active role in creating solutions to some of our most pressing national and global issues.

Detroit’s Eastern Market: A Food Hub in a Food Desert

Look up Wayne County, Michigan, home to Detroit, in USDA’s Food Environment Atlas and it is obvious that local residents have some significant challenges in accessing healthful food.  An alarmingly high number of households that lack a car in Wayne County are located further than one mile from the closest grocery store, meaning that many families struggle to get access to fresh and healthy food.