Marketing Opportunities and Food Systems


At the crossroads of community and economic development, public health, and environmental stewardship, local and regional food systems are becoming increasingly important in the farm economy. Over the past decade, local and regional food systems have experienced tremendous growth, with farmers markets growing by 180 percent since 2006, regional food hubs growing by 288 percent since 2006-2007, and school district participation in farm to school programs increasing by 430 percent since 2006.

While no general consensus has been reached on the definition of “local and regional food systems,” according to the USDA, they generally refer to “place-specific clusters” where food moves from production to aggregation, processing, distribution, sales, and consumption, rather than traveling over long distances to get from farm to fork. Through the expansion of local and regional food systems, small and mid-sized producers, specialty crop farmers, and farmers looking to diversify have been given a huge boost in opportunities to increase their incomes and improve their livelihoods. Additionally, linking the food access and nutritional needs of low-income consumers with farmers growing food for local and regional markets has become increasingly seen as a means for improving public health and community development.

For over 20 years, NSAC has led advocacy efforts that resulted in the creation, funding, expansion or improvement of several federal programs supporting local and regional food systems. With NSAC’s help, the 2014 Farm Bill, incorporating various provisions of the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, made the biggest-ever federal investment – some $884 million – to support efforts that expand healthy food access, help farmers sell directly to consumers and add value to their products, and build needed infrastructure like food hubs, for intermediated marketing opportunities enabling farmers to reach additional customers like schools, restaurants, and grocery retailers.

During 2016, we are seeking to improve the USDA Farm to School Grant Program and reform Local Procurement rules as Congress considers the Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization. We also continue to work for effective Farm Bill implementation of programs supporting local and regional food systems, including efforts to develop more data and information sharing on these programs.

For information on specific federal programs dealing with these issues, check out NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to Federal Farm and Food Programs.

Learn More About NSAC’s work on marketing and food systems!

  • Healthy Food Access: helping low-income, food insecure communities have better access to healthy, affordable food through programs that improve purchasing power and create solutions that build self-sufficiency.
  • Local and Regional Food Systems: building and improving direct-to-consumer marketing channels, like farmers markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture, as well as intermediated marketing channels, like farm-to-school, farm-to-institution, or sales to regional food aggregators.
  • Value-Added Agriculture and Value Chains: promoting value-added producer-owned businesses, including those that link farmers with local and regional supply networks to provide farmers and ranchers with greater marketing opportunities and strengthen community and rural economic development.

Healthy Food Access

Federal programs to strengthen food security for communities in need have increasingly focused their efforts on serving multiple objectives: alleviating hunger, improving nutrition, and bolstering community and economic development. These programs link low-income communities with healthy, fresh foods from farmers serving local markets and facilitate the development of comprehensive, community-based solutions.

NSAC has been working with its member organizations to advocate for funding increases and improvements to programs such as the Community Food Projects Grant Program (CFP) and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP). In the 2014 Farm Bill, NSAC helped to secure $9 million in mandatory funding per year for CFP starting in fiscal year 2015, nearly double its $5 million funding level from the 2008 Farm Bill. Additionally, NSAC successfully advocated to extend the period for CFP grants from 3 years to 5 years.

Unfortunately, efforts to increase funding for the SFMNP were not successful. However, multiple NSAC member groups did successfully champion the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program (FINI), a new program created by the 2014 Farm Bill. NSAC plans to continue to promote these programs to a wide audience and to monitor them for additional ways to improve their implementation and administration.

Recent NSAC Actions on Healthy Food Access

Recent Policy News and Updates

For the lattest news and updates on healthy food access policies and programs visit NSAC’s Nutrition and Food Access blog.

Resources & Analysis

Back to Top

Local and Regional Food Systems

One of USDA’s four pillars of agriculture and rural economic development and one of the areas of focus for USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, local and regional food systems have been highlighted for their ability to create and expand marketing opportunities for farmers and grow regional businesses and economic development. For over a decade, NSAC has been working to advance programs that support local and regional food systems – issues that have become a regular part of the national discourse on food and agriculture and have influenced mainstream marketing channels as consumer demand for agricultural products produced locally have skyrocketed.

NSAC has worked to develop programs such as the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program as part of the last three Farm Bills, helped provide mandatory funding for the Farm to School Grant Program in the 2010 Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization (known as the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act), and helped encourage the development of resources such as FSA’s Microloan program launched in 2013.

These and other programs provide farmers and ranchers with grant, loan, and loan guarantee funds with start-up capital to transition into or expand their operations to sell into local and regional markets. Through legislative and administrative engagement, such as the submission of comments and participation in the federal rulemaking process and listening sessions, NSAC has and will continue to push for ways to help these programs increase their effectiveness and will continue to work with its member groups in education and outreach efforts to farmers and ranchers able to benefit from these federal resources.

With Congress working on a new Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization in 2016, NSAC is working with member group, the National Farm to School Network, in advocating for the Farm to School Act of 2015, a marker bill to improve the flexibility, reach, effectiveness, and inclusiveness of the Farm to School Grant Program.

Recent NSAC Actions on Local and Regional Food Systems

Recent Policy News and Updates

For the latest news and updates on local and regional food systems policies and programs visit NSAC’s Local and Regional Food Systems Blog.

Resources & Analysis

Back to Top

Value-Added Agriculture and Value Chains

For local and regional food systems to thrive, value chains and value-adding are essential to allow farmers and ranchers to go beyond selling raw commodities and to sell their products to a wider audience closer to home. Food value chains require the development of producer (supply) networks, market differentiation of products, efficient infrastructure systems and processes that can safely and quickly process, pack, and transport food products.

As value chains, they are based on the shared values and goals (profitability and sustainability) between food producers, processors, distributors, and sellers. Participating in the food value chain, which links to or markets agricultural products as a part of a local or regional supply network, is one way that producers can add value to their product.

Among the other ways producers can participate in value-added agriculture is by processing their products (for e.g., turning milk into cheese) or making their products unique through segregation (for e.g., non-GMO) or identity preservation (for e.g., organic or grass-fed). Value-added agriculture not only improves incomes for farmers and expands their customer base, but also contributes to community economic development and enhances food choices for consumers.

NSAC has long championed programs that help producers add value to their products and participate in value chains. NSAC helped create the Value-Added Producer Grant program and has since helped to expand and strengthen the program in subsequent Farm Bills, including the 2008 Farm Bill, which includes a consideration of local food enterprises and food supply networks linking farm to table, plus program priorities for assisting small and mid-size family farms as well as beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. In the 2014 Farm Bill, NSAC successfully campaigned to have Congress clarify how program priorities are to be assessed and to add returning veteran farmers as a new program priority category.

NSAC has also helped to create the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, which allows funds to be used for value chain activities, such as aggregating, storing, processing, and/or distributing locally or regionally produced food products to meet local and regional market demand.

NSAC continues to work to improve program efficiency and effectiveness, and inform its members and the wider audience of farmers, ranchers, and other agricultural business owners of programs that can expand marketing opportunities through value-adding and participation in food value chains.

Recent NSAC Actions on Value Added Agriculture and Value Chains

Recent Policy News and Updates

For the most recent news and updates on value-added agriculture and value chain policies and programs visit NSAC’s Rural Development Blog.

Resources & Analysis

Back to Top