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Make the Most of Two New USDA Publications
Submitted by Kate Foster on Tue, 05/08/2012 - 13:03
The United States Department of Agriculture has recently released two resources that may be of interest to RAPP blog subscribers: Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass Tool and Regional Food Hub Resource Guide.
Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass
In mid February, USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative was showcased with a new "compass" tool. Since 2009, a task force with representatives from all 17 USDA agencies and additional field offices has been sharing information and strategies in order to ensure effective distribution of funding across agencies. The compass tool is an effort to share the results of this colloboration with the general public. Its purpose is to give an overview of the previous investments USDA has made in local and regional food systems from 2009-2011, something of obvious interest to RAPP grantees and other small scale farming initiatives. The compass is comprised of two parts: an online pdf narrative and a geospatial mapping tool.
Online PDF Narrative
The narrative contains a number of content sections that may be relevant to you depending on the specific focus of your program. Particularly take note of the following three sections:
Pages 20-33 cover Local Food Infrastructure. Small farmers are instructed about how to leverage existing infrastructure and encouraged to find support to develop new solutions for increased success. USDA categorizes infrastructure developments, in which it has had a hand, into the areas of production, processing, distribution, retail, and food preparation. Case studies and examples of programs, farms, and businesses funded by Business and Industry Guaranteed Loans, the Farmer’s Market Promotion Program, Value-Added Producer grants, Rural Business Enterprise grants, and Communities Facilities grants are shared.
If you are currently vending or are interested in marketing your crops to public schools, check out the Farm to Institution section on pages 46-55. Page 47 mentions the Farm to School Toolkit. Following this link leads to the USDA page on Farm to School activities and resources. Take note of the 2010 USDA Summary Report, a summation of findings from 15 schools with Farm to School Activities in operation. An entire section is written from the perspective of farmers detailing challenges and opportunities for working with school markets. Additionally, follow the link for Grants & Resources for funding opportunities designated specifically for farmers.
The Local Food: Not Just USDA segment of the compass (pages 75-76) is worthy of attention as it features additional grant programs from other government departments that work on a local and regional scale. Some of the programs mentioned are HUD’s Sustainable Community Planning grants and CDC’s Communities Putting Prevention to Work grants.
Local and regional food systems funded from 2009-2011 by USDA programs are displayed on the KYF Map. While the content is not exhaustive or comprehensive, the dynamic map does give a general picture of what types of projects have been funded by the various agencies. By clicking on the Data tab to the left of the map, you can choose to view the data by compass theme, recipient type, program, or farm service agency loans. Locations of food hubs, seasonal high tunnels, WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program can also be displayed.
Make use of this map to think strategically. Brainstorm ideas for partnerships in your area. Or take note of which agencies have not funded projects in your area and look for an opportunity that fits their agenda and your project.
Regional Food Hub Resource Guide
The second publication of interest, released by USDA at the end of April, is the Regional Food Hub Resource Guide.
Regional food hubs are defined in the guide as “businesses or organizations that actively manage the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.” If you are a small scale producer looking to scale up production or pursue a new marketing channel, this guide will help you understand the benefits of selling to a food hub. One main advantage cited is the free formal and informal technical assistance provided by the food hub to its producers. Assistance in adopting product differentiation strategies, for example, often results in a premium in the marketplace ensuring greater profitability for the producer than he would gain through direct or wholesale markets. Greater returns to farmers also result from the food hub model as products are aggregated to achieve greater sales volumes. Furthermore, food hubs provide the infrastructure for venturing into new markets and a sort of safety net that can help ensure the long term stability of small farm ventures. For more information specific to small scale producers interested in connecting to a food hub, read pages 5 and 16-18.
A map with 168 regional food hubs is included on page 71 of the guide. Pages 77-81 of the guide highlight the food hubs that were covered extensively in the guide. For further information, check out USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s Food Hub portal which provides a working list of food hubs along with additional resources, research, and other features of interest.
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