Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack joined Farmer Veteran Coalition Executive Director Michael O'Gorman and Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer to highlight the rapid growth of local and regional marketing opportunities in American agriculture. Local and regional markets provide new opportunity in agriculture and expanded availability of fresh, local foods for all Americans. Link to audio: here
Local and regional markets also provide a unique opportunity to help America's returned service members get started in agriculture, and keep growing. Today, more than four million veterans call rural America home – comprising more than 11 percent of the rural population – and agriculture holds a promising new career for many.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is focused on expanding opportunity for new and beginning producers across the nation, and on creating new opportunities for existing farmers and ranchers. Secretary Vilsack has identified these new opportunities as one priority to help revitalize the rural economy and create jobs.
- Local food sales provide a rapidly growing market opportunity for American agriculture – especially for farmers and ranchers who are just getting into agriculture. The opportunity to produce and market products locally has a particularly positive impact for small and limited-resource producers. Local food is a multibillion-dollar market and growing.
- Local markets also have benefits for Americans who live off the farm. In areas of high poverty, low food security or limited access to healthy foods, farmers markets provide an expanded opportunity for low-income families to purchase fresh, local products.
To help producers take advantage of this multi-billion dollar marketing opportunity, USDA has made historic investments to support these expanding markets.
USDA created the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative in 2009 to help connect producers with new opportunities in local and regional marketing – and to better inform Americans about the business of agriculture and opportunities to connect with farmers and ranchers.
Since 2009, USDA has supported over 2,600 projects nationwide to build new market opportunities in local and regional foods, mainly through programs authorized in the Farm Bill.
- USDA has invested in the future of farmers markets through the Farmers Market Promotion Program, providing assistance for nearly 450 projects nationwide to grow and expand farmers markets.
- USDA has invested in more than 860 projects under the Specialty Crop Block Grants program to expand the production of fruits and vegetables for sale at local markets.
- The National Institute of Food and Agriculture has provided 89 Community Food Project awards in 36 states to expand local food opportunity in low-income communities.
- Over 40,000 young and beginning farmers in 48 states have received assistance in business planning, risk management and farming practices through the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
- Since 2009, USDA has provided assistance to create more than 10,800 high tunnels – low-cost greenhouses that extend the growing season – through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program of the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
- USDA has provided more than 4,000 microloans under the Farm Service Agency's new microlending program. This program provides smaller loans of up to $35,000 for small-scale producers who can also take advantage of local marketing opportunities.
For a complete breakdown of USDA investments by state and region, and to view the growing number of farmers markets, food hubs and other local food indicators, visit the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass map at www.usda.gov/kyfcompass. It is searchable by zip code, key word and program.
- Since 2009, USDA's has helped to create more than 2,800 new farmers markets, which provide farmers and ranchers with new opportunities to sell their produce and expand food options for families. The number of farmers markets has grown by 70 percent nationally since 2009.
- USDA efforts also have helped expand the number of regional food hubs, which aggregate products from small and midsize farms and distribute them to large-volume buyers. The number of regional food hubs has risen by 65 percent since 2009, and more than 230 are now operational around the country.
Much of this support was made possible through programs authorized under the Farm Bill.
To continue support to grow local and regional food systems across the nation, Congress should expedite passage of a comprehensive, multiyear Food, Farm and Jobs Bill. A new Farm Bill would:
- Expand support for local food enterprises through a new Local Food Promotion Program, which would replace the Farmers Market Promotion Program. FMPP is currently without funding due to the lack of a Farm Bill.
- Restore critical funding to the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, which trains the next generation of farmers, including returning veterans. BFRDP is currently without funding due to the lack of a Farm Bill.
- Launch a new program to help low-income consumers purchase more fruits and vegetables, particularly locally-grown produce, by providing incentives at the point of purchase.
- Continue critical infrastructure funding for food storage, processing and distribution businesses, including food hubs, through Rural Development programs such as the Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program.
A new Farm Bill would also provide many other critical programs that would grow the rural economy and create jobs in rural America.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Stop 9410, Washington, DC 20250-9410, or call toll-free at (866) 632-9992 (English) or (800) 877-8339 (TDD) or (866) 377-8642 (English Federal-relay) or (800) 845-6136 (Spanish Federal-relay).