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 does take some important steps toward addressing the gaps and needs of producers and organizations who want to supply the growing demand for regionally-produced food.
The new 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 Value-Added Producer Grants Program and Farmers’ Market Promotion Program in the most recent farm bill. Both programs aim to increase farmers’ share of the food and agricultural system profit and have the secondary effect of increasing consumer access to healthy food grown by producers in their region. NSAC also worked with others to establish the new Local and Regional Food Enterprise Guaranteed Loans program that will support enterprises that process, distribute, aggregate, store, and market local and regional foods.
The value-added grants and local food enterprise loan programs are both in the farm bill’s rural development title, signifying their important associated economic development role. In addition to securing programs in the 2008 Farm Bill that support agricultural development and the revitalization of local and regional agri-food systems, NSAC also worked with the Center for Rural Affairs and others to establish the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to help promote rural entrepreneurship and small business success in rural communities more broadly. This important win 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.
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 also supported the Community Food Security Coalition’s successful protection of funding for the Community Food Project Grants program, which supports innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.
Though not an NSAC priority, we have included information about the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program because in some states sustainable and organic food and farming groups have had some success in directing how their state Department of Agriculture spends its share of this block grant funding for advancing the horticultural crop segment of agriculture.