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food value chains

On the Road to Success for Local and Regional Food

Rivers, roads and rails—the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line. Finding the best path forward can be difficult as city traffic gets worse each year, frustrating commuters and thwarting deliveries. Also in the transportation mix are farmers traveling the same roads trying to bring the freshest produce to city markets.  With the $7 billion-per-year market for local and regional food continuing to grow, more and more goods are being transported along local routes.

Developing creative ways to navigate transportation challenges is critical for farmers and consumers alike to meet the increasing demand for local and regional food.  Farmers relying on local and regional food systems may not have the scale or capacity to use established food freight systems. That’s why USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has taken a fresh look at food distribution issues, especially for the local and regional markets.

Delivering Along the Food Value Chain

A recent trip back home to Louisiana sparked memories of a simpler time when old trucks full of fresh produce rumbled down dusty roads to deliver goods to the local market. The 2012 Census of Agriculture tells us that 50,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are now selling to local retailers and that 150,000 of them are selling their products directly to consumers. Although these farmers and ranchers are still using this direct approach, the agricultural industry is certainly more dynamic today.  This means that producers need to follow a strategic business model.

The reality is that food can go through a lot of steps to reach the consumer. Before it is served on the table, food travels from the field to the truck to the packing house to the store. My agency, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), has many programs that support business entities involved in the food chain, including farmers markets and food hubs. For example, we invest in projects that help farmers and businesses understand emerging trends, create new markets, and stimulate our nation’s rural economies.