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KYF2 Compass

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.

Minneapolis Students Gear up for a School Year Full of Fresh, Locally Grown Foods

It’s that time of year – books, backpacks and a BBQ!   That’s right - Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is preparing for its annual Farm to School Community BBQ, a much anticipated back-to-school event that kicks off the school year.  The following guest blog features inspiring initiatives MPS has implemented to serve local foods to its 35,000 students in the district.

Since 2011, MPS has sourced fresh produce, meats, baked goods and other products from local farmers and manufacturers.  Purchasing local foods supports Minnesota farms and small businesses and provides opportunities for students to learn how their food is grown by extending farm to school efforts beyond the cafeteria and into the classroom with visits from farmers and taste-tests.

Farm to school also helps to support another USDA initiative designed to enhance school meals – the What’s Shaking? Creative Ways to Boost Flavor with Less Sodium initiative.   Using local foods means that school nutrition programs are preparing more meals from scratch, allowing them to control the amount of sodium. Farm to school gets students engaged and excited about school meals – and with the community BBQ, both kids and their families get a sneak peek at what’s going to be on the lunch menu for the new school year.

By Kate Seybold, Farm to School Coordinator, Minneapolis Public Schools

What better way to ring in the new school year than by celebrating the bounties of local produce that farmers harvest during the back-to-school season?  Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) is hosting its Fifth Annual Farm to School Community BBQ – a community event built around fresh food, families and fun! The event brings together MPS students and their families, school staff, local farmers and vendors, True Food Chef Council members and other community partners in celebration of Minnesota Farm to School Month and our farm to school program.

Local Food - Cooking Up Creative & Fresh Ideas for Healthy Communities

Nutritional classes, purple beets, basil pesto and dark roast coffee - it’s not your father’s farmers market.  The entire local food system is maturing and farmers markets are offering more and more community-focused services. Many farmers markets now give their customers a chance to learn about locally-produced foods, in addition to buying and consuming them.

USDA is a proud partner and supporter of local and regional food systems through our programs, grants and technical services. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) grants are helping farmers markets implement creative programs to support local food producers and build healthy communities. One example of an AMS grant success story is Community Foodworks, which manages the Columbia Heights Farmers Market and six other markets across Washington, DC, and Northern Virginia.

Local and Organic Food Shopping - Finding the Best Price

When comparing product prices between farmers markets and retail stores, local products are competitively priced - within a 10 percent price range - at farmers markets a majority of the time, even less expensive for some foods.  Local, certified organic products at farmers markets are almost always competitively priced when compared to prices at retail stores.

These are just some of the findings from a recent project conducted by the Local Foods Data Tracking Program, a joint effort between USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Market News division and the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food, & Markets (VAAFM).  Prices were collected on a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a selection of meat and poultry products grown and sold in Vermont.

Mapping Out Farmers Market Success

Anticipation is building for the opening of seasonal farmers markets in communities across the country—especially in Takoma Park, MD, at the Crossroads Farmers Market.  With over 1,000 visitors each week and vendors offering 131 different fruits and vegetables, market manager Michelle Dudley has a lot of work to do figuring out the perfect placement of farmers and vendors coming to the market starting June 1.

Thanks to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), she has it all mapped out!

Talking Local Food: Measuring Progress and Creating Opportunities

Results—at USDA we are constantly tracking and measuring them.  We want to know that what we’re doing is making a difference, that we’re making progress towards our mission, that the communities we support are getting the help they need.  Recently I had the pleasure of visiting local food stakeholders that are making a real difference in Charlottesville, VA and hear firsthand how USDA programs have made an impact in their community.

During my visit, I had a chance to listen to farmers, local food organizers, and business owners share their experiences involving local food production.  Just outside Charlottesville, I toured the Hill Farm and the warehouse of Local Food Hub.  The open dialog of these visits is important to me and important to USDA.  I strongly believe that we need to hear from the public so we make sure our priorities, programs and services are in line with what the American people need.

Every Family Needs A Farmer

Since the beginning of April 2016, USDA has celebrated the success of small and mid-sized farmers in conjunction with local and regional food systems.  USDA officially kicked off Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2) Month by not only announcing a number of new initiatives, but also highlighting the vast array of accomplishments achieved by our stakeholders, grantees, employees and more.

KYF2 Month is soon coming to a close.  However, we still have a few announcements up our sleeves.  Today we’re rolling out the revamped Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website.  The site was redesigned to offer a more user-friendly experience that makes it easier to navigate the wealth of USDA and partner resources. Using updated web standards and visuals to optimize the user-experience, we’ve reorganized the information and gathered new content.  In short, the KYF2 website has become an even better a one-stop-shop for information on USDA’s local and regional food systems work.

Unlocking the Toolkit for Stronger Local Food Systems

Every community wants to support initiatives that promote economic growth and create new jobs, but sometimes it can be hard to decide on the best way to accomplish these goals.  Now there is a new resource to help communities make the economic case for investments in local food. Today, Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of “The Economics of Local Food Systems: A Toolkit to Guide Community Discussions, Assessments and Choices” at the Good Food Festival’s Financing and Innovation Conference in Chicago. Secretary Vilsack highlighted USDA’s continued support of local and regional food systems, much of which is coordinated through USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.

Lessons from the Field: A New Series for Food Hub Development

Since 2009, USDA has invested in 29,100 local food opportunities, including food hubs, small scale processing and farmers markets across all 50 states and the US territories. These investments include over 12,000 loans and micro-loans to small-scale producers who often sell products locally and over 13,000 high tunnels (low-cost covered structures that extend the growing season and make locally-grown products available later in the year).

However, as with any investment, the success of a business depends not just on an infusion of capital, but also on good planning.  Technical assistance services such as feasibility studies, business planning, financing strategies, supply chain logistics, marketing, and guidance with the policy and regulatory environment are equally important.

Behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative: Matt Russell

“The term ‘farm to school’ involves thinking of the whole plate, so to speak. It’s about increasing the amount of local and regional foods served in school cafeterias while also increasing education and community outreach for kids, and creating market opportunities for producers.”

So says Matt Russell, Grant Program Manager for the Farm to School Program at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  Matt works to support school districts, non-profits, and other stakeholders in bringing more local and regional food into the school meal program.