USDA Encourages Local-food Initiatives

"Local food” is the buzz phrase this season with two USDA projects helping to support local food systems.

by Dani Yokhna
Two women gleaning corn at Blackie's Farm in Auburn, Maine
Courtesy Ernie Boda/Good Shepherd Food Bank
The USDA-funded Mainers Feeding Mainers program at the Good Shepherd Food Bank distributes food grown by local farmers to Maine’s hunger-relief organizations.

It’s been a fairly mild winter in most parts of the country, and if you’re anything like your other hobby-farming comrades, you’re itching to get your hands in the soil and start growing food. The USDA is all abuzz over food and farming, too, with campaigns and grant awards targeting local food systems.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass
Last week, the USDA unveiled the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, a Web-based map to highlight USDA-funded local and regional food projects between 2009 and 2011. Data on the site is broken into seven categories (Local Food Infrastructure, Farm to Institution, Careers in Agriculture, Stewardship and Local Foods, Local Meat and Poultry, Healthy Food Access, and Local Food Knowledge), showcasing case studies, photos and videos from various USDA projects.

A key feature of the site is the interactive map, which pinpoints local-food projects happening across the U.S. You can customize the map to view projects by compass theme, recipient type or program. The map is also equipped to display data about Farm Service Agency Loans, college tour locations, seasonal high tunnels, farmers’ market nutrition programs and more.

“The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative helps farmers and ranchers tap into a vibrant, growing market opportunity,” says Kathleen Merrigan, deputy agriculture secretary. “And it’s also stimulating a broader national conversation about where our food comes from and how important agriculture is to our economy.”

Community Food Project Awards
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture recently announced 27 grant awards made through its Community Food Projects program. Funding totaling $4.8 million will be used to support food and nutrition initiatives across the country, including a teen-run community kitchen incubator, a program to help indigenous people return to healthful eating and a youth-led food-security movement.

“All of our grant recipients support the connection between farmers and the community by promoting comprehensive responses to local food, farm and nutrition issues,” says NIFA spokesperson Jennifer Martin.

Subscribe now

One program, in particular, is using its award money to help engage farmers in meeting community hunger needs. The Mainers Feeding Mainers program at the Good Shepherd Food Bank in Auburn, Maine, worked with 20 local farmers in 2011 to distribute about 1 million pounds of local food to hunger-relief organizations across the state.

“We contract with these local farmers to purchase products from their farms, and many also donate surplus items to the food bank,” says Clara McConnell, the food bank’s communications manager.

Throughout the 2012 and 2013 growing seasons, the food bank will be putting its funds toward expanding its Mainers Feeding Mainers business plan to develop fair pricing strategies for its farmers, create models for farm-to-pantry satellite food-distribution hubs, and assess and improve current farm partnerships.

The application deadline for 2012 grants has passed. Nonprofits wishing to apply for 2013 funding can find more information on the NIFA website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *