Local & Regional Food Systems
The surge in consumer demand for food and agricultural products from local farmers and regional markets form a unique set of opportunities and challenges. Rising demand for healthy foods is an important incentive for farmers and ranchers, but many still face obstacles such as the lack of processing and distribution infrastructure needed to enable a local or regional food system to emerge. While federal policies and programs have been slow to respond to this changing market environment, the 2008 Farm Bill contains some innovative new and expanded programs that help to manage the marketing and business development needs of those farmers, ranchers, and non-profits who want to deliver healthy, sustainably-produced foods to consumers in their immediate locale or region.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) once again led the charge in advancing and expanding the:
- Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) in the most recent farm bill. The FMPP seeks to increase farmer-to-consumer direct marketing by providing grants for the development, improvement, and expansion of farmers’ markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture programs, and other direct marketing opportunities. The new farm bill mandates that at least 10 percent of funds must be used for Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) systems to assist food stamp recipients access to farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and roadside stands.
NSAC also worked with others to establish the new:
- Local and Regional Food Enterprise Guaranteed Loans program in the new farm bill that will fund enterprises that process, distribute, aggregate, store, and market local and regional foods.
NSAC was involved in the breakthrough agreement that led to the:
- Interstate Shipment of State-Inspected Meat provision in the new farm bill, which will increase market access for small and mid-sized livestock producers.
NSAC is also working closely with researchers at the Economic Research Service (ERS) of USDA who are undertaking a two-year study of local foods systems beginning in the fall of 2008. NSAC successfully won language in the new farm bill that encourages ERS to leverage additional resources for the study through collaborations with land-grant universities and other research institutions who have expertise in local and regional food systems.