Vilsack on Developing the Local Food Economy and Beginning Farmers in the Farm Bill
November 19th, 2013
In a column published on the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” webpage on Friday, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized the benefits of local and regional markets for America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers and the importance of timely passage of a Farm Bill.
The column, which is reprinted in its entirety below, highlights several local and regional food marketing opportunities – such as farm to school, farmers markets, and food hubs – and tools, such as EBT technology at farmers markets, which help provide greater economic opportunities for America’s farmers and ranchers and rural communities, while also providing consumers with increased access to fresh and healthy locally produced foods. The column was also expanded upon in this USDA Fact Sheet, released yesterday.
Secretary Vilsack also took time on Monday to note the significance of programs supporting beginning farmers, an issue of growing importance as the average age of farmers in the U.S. climbs over 55 and as more veterans returning from tours in Iraq and Afghanistan look to farming as a new career path. On a call with reporters this afternoon, Secretary Vilsack joined Michael O’Gorman, Executive Director of NSAC member group Farmer Veteran Coalition to speak about how the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development program and the Farm Services Agency microloans program are critical to helping beginning farmers develop farm businesses and contribute to their local and regional economies.
The Farm Bill could address the growing popularity and demand for local and regional food products and the need for beginning farmer programs through various provisions. This is particularly true for programs that have been left stranded by the expiration of the 2008 Farm Bill and the short-term extension of the old farm bill.
As the House and Senate negotiate a final bill, however, much remains in the balance:
- For some programs, such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program, and Community Food Grants, the House bill provides more robust funding.
- For other programs, such as the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program, only the Senate bill contains the needed funding.
- For yet other critical programs, such as Value-Added Producer Grants, Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance, and Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, both bills provide insufficient funding that need to be increased in the final bill.
- And just as funding is a mixed bag, so too is policy. For example, only the House bill contains important Farm to School pilot programs and an authorization for expanded microloans for beginning farmers, while only the Senate bill contains an authorization for credit for local food farmers and for ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.
As final decisions get made in the coming weeks, NSAC will be advocating for a final farm bill that includes strong provisions and funding for local and regional food systems and new and beginning farmers, among other top issues.
Posted by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, on November 15, 2013 at 3:30 PM
One very important reason for Congress to expedite work toward a new Food, Farm and Jobs Bill is to continue today’s rapid growth in local and regional marketing opportunities for American agriculture.
From local farmers markets to regional food hubs, these new opportunities benefit a wide range of Americans from all walks of life.
They benefit farmers and ranchers who are looking to start selling locally or scale up to regional sales. Farmers markets and regional food hubs have a particularly positive impact for small and limited-resource producers. Sales of local foods are growing rapidly, creating a multibillion-dollar market opportunity for producers.
Local markets also have an impact on our work to bring folks into the business of agriculture. As the average age of the American farmer increases, we need more new folks on the farm. Local and regional markets help these new farmers – who include returning veterans, immigrants and more women than ever before – get started and sell their product.
American families interested in buying local benefit as well. Under the Obama Administration, we have helped to create more than 2,800 new farmers markets that give families additional options in buying local foods. In many areas of high poverty, low food security or limited access to healthy, fresh produce, farmers markets provide low-income parents with an important way to put healthy food on the plate for their families.
By more than doubling the availability of EBT technology in farmers markets – and supporting more than 450 projects to help farmers markets expand and grow – USDA has focused on amplifying these benefits for families.
Schools and school districts are working harder than ever to source their food locally and provide healthy meals at school – ultimately benefiting our young people. Across the nation, USDA is working with school districts under our Farm to School program, helping districts establish relationships with producers. During the 2011-2012 school year, school districts purchased and served more than $350 million in local foods – and that number is set to grow as we undertake even more efforts to support Farm to School projects.
To help show the rapid growth of the local food market across the nation, USDA created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass – an online tool illustrating the many places USDA has supported these opportunities nationwide.
Local and regional marketing opportunities hold great promise for folks across the nation. They’re helping our producers grow and thrive. They’re bringing fresh foods to underserved areas. They’re helping our kids get good nutrition at school. USDA intends to continue our record support for these markets – but to do so, we need a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill as soon as possible. A new Farm Bill would enable our continued efforts to expand farmers markets and food hubs, while expanding healthy food access for low-income Americans and kids in our schools. All of these efforts would benefit the rural economy, while helping to achieve new opportunity in agriculture in the years to come.