Weekly Column: Local Markets, Local Growth

Cross-posted from USDA

Many consumers want to “buy local” and support their local economy with their purchases. When local food marketing opportunities exist for rural producers, they cause ripple effects throughout the rural economy.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture results indicate that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling their products directly to consumers, and 50,000 are selling to local retailers. Today, local food is a more than $7 billion industry and growing, according to industry estimates. The excitement around this market is drawing young people back to rural communities, generating jobs, and improving quality of life.

USDA’s local food work takes many forms. Last week, USDA opened the 19th season for our farmers market with great fanfare. This is one of the 8,100 farmers markets across the country. These are important community spaces and are helping many farmers, particularly smaller and beginning farmers, increase their revenues.

For a long time, farmers markets were the principal face of local food. Today, the local market is growing and maturing and with that, we’re seeing even bigger opportunities. Institutional purchasing through Farm to School is a remarkable example of that. As school closes out for the year, we’ve updated our Farm to School Census and found that 44% of school districts surveyed are actively engaged in farm to school programming. That means more than 4,300 school districts serving over 23 million children are buying local products and teaching children where food comes from. In school year 2011-2012, schools purchased over $386 million in local food.

To help develop these and many other promising opportunities, USDA is working with our partners through the White House Rural Council to coordinate Federal resources and programs. One of the new ways we’re doing this is through Local Food, Local Places, a new effort that pools Federal funds to provide technical assistance to communities that want to use local food to spur economic development. Under this effort, a team of agricultural, transportation, environmental, and regional economic experts will work directly with local communities to develop comprehensive strategies that use local food systems to meet a variety of needs. Local Food, Local Places will put communities in a strong position to develop business plans, create financing and fundraising strategies, and implement their vision for more vibrant, livable and healthy communities.

Keep reading…


Farm Policy Roundup: Appropriators Cut Conservation Programs

Cross-posted from American Farmland Trust

By Jeremy Peters

The House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees approved legislation this week making spending decisions for fiscal year 2015 agriculture programs. The bills make important increases in conservation technical assistance spending, with the largest increase to $849 million in the Senate agriculture appropriations bill.

However, the House agriculture appropriations bill proposes to cut over a half-billion dollars from important farmland conservation programs, including $60 million from the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and $200 million from the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). These cuts come on top of over $4 billion that was already cut as part of the 2014 Farm Bill.

The Senate Appropriations Committee also approved their version of the bill May 22, while the House Appropriations Committee is expected to take up their bill as early as May 29. The committee’s work can be viewed live online.

Keep reading …


Food is Medicine Web Forum: Integrating Food Programs into Health Care

Register Today!

The link between obesity and debilitating chronic illness is well-established, but access to healthy food remains problematic for many suffering from chronic illness. Healthy food is a key care component in handling an individual’s overall health, especially when managing diabetes. For these individuals, food is medicine. Low income populations often bear a disproportionate burden of chronic disease. There are significant benefits to be realized by incorporating healthy food in a medical treatment plan, both in terms of improved health outcomes and significant cost savings to insurers.

Join sponsors the National Network of Public Health Institutes (NNPHI), the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, and the Harvard Law School Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation Thursday, May 8th, 2:00 – 3:00 PM ET, for the next Dialogue4Health webinar, “Food is Medicine: Integrating Food Programs into Health Care.” Discussion will focus on how incorporating food-based interventions into health care can improve patient outcomes while dramatically reducing public and private insurer cost.

Learn more and register.


Stand and Be Heard

Cross-posted from Community Food and Justice Coalition

By Y. Armando Nieto

Its time to Stand and be Heard, and that means each of us. If you bear with me, I’ll explain.

To begin, I want to reflect on my personal history to lend perspective to the request for your personal action now.

In the 60’s and 70’s, when I was a young activist, we were paranoid about signing our names on to any list—for the same reason, you could not find a tattoo on any of us—for fear of identification to the “man,” or others intent in their opposition to our issue—ending the war in Vietnam, voting rights, discrimination in the South and across the country, etc.

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Weekly Column: Farm Bill Supports Specialty Crop Growers, Improves Access to Healthy Food

Cross-posted from the USDA

The 2014 Farm Bill has already set in motion and accomplished so much for our country. With historic support for specialty crop producers across the country, the bill will touch every one of our lives through one of the most basic of human needs: food.

Specialty crops make up the bulk of what we eat—all of our fruits and vegetables, tree nuts and dried fruits—as well as things like cut flowers and nursery crops. They are half of MyPlate at every meal, and the daily source for most of our vitamins and nutrients. For many in rural America, these crops not only provide nutrition, they are also a primary source of income.

For nearly a decade, USDA supported specialty crop growers across the country through the Specialty Crop Block Grant (SCBG) program. These grants enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops, sustain the livelihood of American farmers, and strengthen rural economies.

Last year, the program provided $55 million for 700 state-selected projects nationwide that contributed to food safety improvements, increased access to healthy food, and provided new research to help growers increase profitability and sustainability. The new farm bill expands support through the SCBG program to more than $66 million in grants for specialty crop growers—a historic high.

With projects focusing on everything from food safety to business planning, the block grants are designed to increase the long-term success of producers and broaden the market for specialty crops. Many states select projects that dovetail with community needs, such as establishing farm to school programs, providing training in good agricultural handling practices (GAP), creating organic and sustainable production practices, and developing food hubs that will increase opportunities for small-scale growers.

In Michigan, a 2009 grant helped the state Department of Agriculture and Resource Development work with partners to increase sales opportunities for specialty crop farmers in Southeast Michigan. They were able to identify and overcome barriers that prevented schools from purchasing products directly from local farmers, and ended up increasing the sales of apples, cucumbers, peppers, red potatoes, broccoli and several other crops within their state.

Another grant in Idaho established a partnership between the state Department of Agriculture and Boise State University-Tech to provide workshops that helped improve food safety and implement sustainable production practices for onions, potatoes, apples, cherries, peas and lentils. The project resulted in higher audit scores, increased efficiency and sustainability for participating companies, which both improve consumer confidence and help producers’ bottom lines in the long run.

Our dedication to strengthening rural America and increasing opportunities for specialty crop farmers will help keep our nation’s economy—and people—healthy for years to come. This week, we made the next round of SCBG funds available so that states can begin funding projects. If you’re interested in applying, I encourage you to contact your state department of agriculture. You can find more information at www.usda.gov/farmbill.


Farm Policy Roundup

Cross-posted from American Farmland Trust

By Jeremy Peters

House Subcommittee Examines Agriculture Appropriations

The House Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee held a hearing on April 8 to review USDA field agencies and fiscal year 2015 (FY15) spending. The subcommittee makes annual spending decisions for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and other related agencies.

Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief Jason Weller was a witness, testifying on conservation successes the agency has experienced in working with private landowners and explaining the agency’s continued need for robust funding for technical assistance as well as for Farm Bill programs.

American Farmland Trust President and CEO Andrew McElwaine issued a press statement, calling on the subcommittee to “provide full funding for farmland conservation and for beginning farmer programs authorized in the 2014 federal Farm Bill.”

Keep reading…


Congressional Briefing on EAT for Health and ENRICH Acts: Improving Nutrition Education among Health Care Professionals

Cross-posted from Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

On Friday, April 4, the Physicians Committee hosted a Congressional briefing entitled “Improving Nutrition Education among Health Care Professionals” with honorary hosts Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH), and panelists Dr. Martin Kohlmeier, Dr. Charlotte Pratt, Dr. Garth Davis, and Caroline Trapp, and moderated by PCRM President Dr. Neal Barnard.

Seven out of every ten deaths are caused by preventable chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and stroke where diet is a major factor. More than 75 percent of health care expenditures are due to chronic disease.Even though nine out of ten doctors express the need for more nutrition counseling in primary care visits and over half of medical school students desire more nutrition education, less than 15 percent of primary care visits include nutrition counseling and nearly three out of four medical schools do not offer basic nutrition education.

The Congressional briefing highlighted two important bills that will increase nutrition education and awareness among health care professionals to comprehensively address chronic diseases.

The Expanding Nutrition’s Role in Curricula and Healthcare (ENRICH) Act, sponsored by Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), establishes a $15 million grant program to integrate nutrition education into medical school curricula.

The Education and Training (EAT) for Health Act, sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), ensures a certain number of credits in continuing medical education (CME) go to nutrition for federally-employed health care professionals.

Keep Reading …


Cultivating a Healthy Future: Agriculture’s Role in Improving Health and Wellness

Monday, April 7, 9 am – 12:45 pm (EDT)

Register Here

The National Coalition for Food and Agricultural Research is hosting Cultivating a Healthy Future: Agriculture’s Role in Improving Health and Wellness. This free half-day event will bring together leaders from the public health and agriculture communities to offer an innovative look at how US food systems impact human health. Agency and industry leaders will exhibit case studies that highlight the links between agriculture and human health, and how food and agricultural research can support healthy outcomes in people, plants and animals. Please feel free to share this invitation with others.

Follow the summit live with #HealthyAgPeople

Click here to register and for more information.


2014 Farm Bill Drill Down: Recap and Wrap Up

Cross-posted from National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

This post wraps up our series on what is in the new 2014 Farm Bill for sustainable food and farming systems.  We started the series with an overview of what was in the bill for sustainable agriculture, and then dove into a series of posts with the nitty-gritty details of the new bill:

While the bill is a mixed bag for sustainable agriculture, the strong progress made on a variety of fronts in the bill is the result of congressional champions and the tireless efforts of farmers and grassroots advocates who made their voices heard through countless calls to Congress, meetings and farm tours with legislators, and outreach to their communities on how to weigh in on our nation’s food and farm policy.

Keep reading…


Late Breaking Farm Bill Web Forum Archive

The President signed the 2014 Farm Bill into law today.

Yesterday, the Healthy Farms Healthy People Coalition hosted a Late Breaking Farm Bill Web Forum to present a range of perspectives on the final bill from a panel of agriculture, food, and nutrition policy experts.

Download the web forum.

Learn about the final 2014 Farm Bill and what its implications are for agriculture and the health of communities across America.

Panelists: