Financial Boost for US Organic, Local Food Sectors

US - USDA has awarded more than $52 million in grants to support organic and local food economies.
calendar icon 1 October 2014
clock icon 5 minute read

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced the award of over $52 million in support of the growing organic industry and local and regional food systems through five US Department of Agriculture (USDA) grant programmes. The Secretary made the announcement during an event with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and First Lady Dorothy McAuliffe and local farmers at the Virginia State Fair.

"Local and regional food systems are one of the pillars of our efforts to revitalise rural economies," said Secretary Vilsack. "Consumers are increasingly demanding more local and organic options. Investing in local and regional food systems supports the livelihoods of farmers and ranchers, especially smaller operations, while strengthening economies in communities across the country. Today's announcements also improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans."

Most of the grants announced were authorised through the Agricultural Act of 2014 (the 2014 Farm Bill), including the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) Farmers Market Promotion programme and Local Foods Promotion programme, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA) Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI) and Community Food Projects (CFP) grant programme.

Also announced were grants from AMS's Federal-State Marketing Improvement programme (FSMIP). Together, these investments represent USDA's commitment to strengthening organic and local and regional food systems through projects that recruit and train farmers, expand economic opportunities, and increase access to healthy foods.

Secretary Vilsack made the announcement while in Virginia, where M. James Faison, a farmer and business owner of Milton's Local Harvest, was awarded a Local Food Promotion programme grant. Milton's Local Harvest will develop aggregation and wholesale distribution channels for farmers producing local swine and cattle products in Virginia and the District of Columbia. The project will improve the commercial viability of small to medium scale farmers, allowing wholesalers to source locally and increasing consumer access to local, sustainable, and healthy meat.

USDA's AMS awarded over $27 million in competitive grants to expand marketing through the new Local Food Marketing Promotion programme (LFPP) and the Farmers Market Promotion programme (FMPP). LFPP will invest millions annually in marketing and promotion activities for local food enterprises including food hubs, aggregation businesses, local food processors, farm to institution activities and other similar efforts. FMPP makes annual investments in marketing and promotion activities for farmers markets, CSAs and other direct producer-to-consumer outlets for local food.

"These Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion programme grants provide farmers and ranchers around the country with tools to reach consumers, strengthen ties between urban and rural communities, and help meet the growing demand for locally and regionally produced food," said AMS Administrator Anne Alonzo.

Through the Organic Research and Extension Initiative, USDA is awarding more than $19 million in grants to help producers and processors who have already adopted organic standards grow and market high-quality organic agricultural products. OREI's priority concerns include biological, physical and social sciences. Organic Research and Extension Initiative -funded projects assist farmers and ranchers with whole farm planning by delivering practical research-based information and will improve the ability of growers to develop the Organic System Plan required for certification. For fiscal year 2014, special emphasis was given to research, education and extension relating to management of diseases, insect pests and weeds in specific regions.

Community Food Projects addresses a serious local issue, which is basic food access for low-income families and individuals. CFP projects bring together a wide range of food system experts to share their knowledge, skills and resources to develop innovative solutions to the nation's food and hunger problems. USDA is awarding $4.8 million in CFP funding to 22 projects in 16 states.

AMS is also awarding over $1 million in matching FSMIP grants to state departments of agriculture and state colleges and universities. Funds support research projects to address challenges and opportunities in marketing, transporting, and distributing U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally. FSMIP grants are funding 17 projects in 13 States.

All of these USDA grants make a difference to diverse stakeholders across the nation. For example, previous FMPP grants have led to increased sales and attendance at farmers markets, which creates more opportunities for more producers to become vendors.

The local and regional food systems grant projects support the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2) which coordinates USDA's support in local and regional food systems. Past FMPP and FSMIP projects supporting this work can be found on the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass.

Much of the funding announced was made possible through the 2014 Farm Bill, which builds on historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, while achieving meaningful reform and billions of dollars in savings for the taxpayer. Since enactment, USDA has made significant progress to implement each provision of this critical legislation, including providing disaster relief to farmers and ranchers; strengthening risk management tools; expanding access to rural credit; funding critical research; establishing innovative public-private conservation partnerships; developing new markets for rural-made products; and investing in infrastructure, housing and community facilities to help improve quality of life in rural America.

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