The surge in consumer demand for organically-produced food and agricultural products from local and regional markets form a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Rising demand for these kinds of foods is an important incentive for farmers and ranchers, but many still face the high cost of transitioning to organic production or live in an area that lacks appropriate processing and distribution infrastructure necessary to enable a local or regional food system to fully emerge.
Federal policies and programs have been slow to respond to this changing market environment, but the 2008 Farm Bill does take some important steps toward better addressing the gaps and needs of producers and organizations who want to supply the growing demand for good food. NSAC and its members are working to ensure that these new programs are properly implemented at the administrative level and funded.
Over half of all new jobs created in the most rural regions of the nation come from small, non-farm business ventures. In addition to providing producers with the resources they need to access markets for organically and regionally-produced foods, non-agriculture job creation is imperative for the survival of rural communities. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is working with its members to help promote rural entrepreneurship and small business success in rural communities. This is part of the larger strategy to revitalize agricultural communities in an equitable manner that provides meaningful employment and gives people a lasting stake in their communities.
Priorities for the Marketing, Food Systems & Rural Development Committee for 2014:
Local and Regional Food Systems
Strengthen marketing and rural development programs that promote development of the entire value chain for local and regional foods and sustainable and organic agriculture, including production, aggregation, processing, distribution, and marketing. This work includes but is not limited to the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, National Organic Cost Share Certification Program, Value-Added Producer Grant Program, and Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Local and Regional Food Enterprise Program.
Foster business opportunities and job creation in rural communities, including but not limited to work that directly relates to food and agriculture development, through strong funding levels and improvements to USDA Rural Development programs. This work includes but is not limited to the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, Rural Business Development Grant Program, and Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program.
Farm to School Grants and Pilot Program
Expand and enhance farm to school initiatives through strong implementation of the Farm to School grant program and ensure greater flexibility for states, school districts, and schools in sourcing local food for school meals and snacks, including through implementation of the Farm to School pilot program from the 2014 Farm Bill.
Healthy Food Access
Support the development and funding of programs that increase access to healthy and locally produced food for low-income underserved communities in the U.S. Examples of programs include the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives Program, Community Food Project Grant Program, Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
Recent Actions Taken by NSAC: