April 17, 2013
Guest Blog — We want to thank Bob Junk, Local Economy Manager with Fay-Penn Economic Development Council for preparing this blog post. Fay-Penn is an NSAC member organization and Bob co-chairs our Marketing, Food Systems, and Rural Development committee.
Senator Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA) has re-introduced the Growing Opportunities for Agriculture and Responding to Markets (GO FARM) Act of 2013 (S.678), with Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) as a co-sponsor. The Act was first introduced in 2011 by Senators Casey and Harkin with the goal of including it in a 2012 Farm Bill.
GO FARM is an innovative measure that would establish a loan fund program, administered by USDA, to support local farm and market garden businesses. If enacted, it will benefit rural communities throughout the United States. As Senator Casey stated, “Local farms are job creators in our communities. This bill will support small farms throughout the country, which are an essential source of economic activity and are vital to getting healthy, local food from farm to table.”
GO-FARM would authorize USDA to provide low-interest loans to third party intermediary lenders, such as economic development organizations, small business development centers, co-operatives, or conservation districts. These lending partners would then establish a revolving loan fund to make small, low-interest loans to producers, specifically those who grow crops for local markets like schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and farm-to-consumer markets. Using third party lending entities allows a closer connection to the farmers who are applying for these loans, as well as better and more personalized support services for each farmer.
In order to receive these funds, each lending entity must meet objectives of the loan program, including both financial and technical assistance. Lenders who participate in GO FARM will give priority to producers seeking to diversify their production and income, who produce food for under-served communities and food deserts, or who are beginning or minority farmers.
GO FARM loan funds can be used for a wide array of purposes, including, but not limited to the following:
A condensed version of the GO FARM proposal was incorporated in the farm bill re-authorization approved by the House Agriculture Committee in 2012 as an adjunct to the new Farm Serve Agency Microloan program. While the farm bill did not become law last year, NSAC will work again in 2013 to see that this idea is included in the new farm bill that Congress is about to start working on again.