Friday, February 17, 2012

Local Foods Get a Boost!

AliciaEarlier this month, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded $40.2 million through its Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, sending funds to nearly 300 recipients in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

That’s great news for local and regional food systems and the family farmers who grow them from the ground up! The VAPG program supports farmers, ranchers and farmer-owned cooperatives and businesses that bring value-added foods to market. Value-added products include any farm good that is processed or packaged in a way to give it greater value. Think cheese and ice cream made from a local organic dairy cooperative, wine from a local vineyard’s grapes or even fuel made from hay that is no longer suitable for livestock feed.

By supporting feasibility studies and product research, business enterprise development and supplying operating capital, programs like VAPG give a boost to farmers’ income and create jobs in rural communities where local-based food enterprises are gaining steam. They also give consumers more opportunities to source food from local farmers for their families.

When announcing the recipients, Secretary Merrigan noted that, “these projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country.”

Hey, that sounds an awful lot like what we said in our 2010 report, Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family-Farm Centered Food Systems, which called for investment in family farm agriculture as a way to revitalize our economy:

Seeds of hope lie in America’s family farmers and ranchers, despite the grim economic conditions facing the nation. A frequently overlooked source of economic development and job creation, these producers are standing on the cutting edge of flourishing local and regional food systems that are sustaining economies, nourishing communities and creating a strong foundation for a stable and prosperous future.

Perhaps the suits at USDA read our work?

Still, the amount awarded is dwarfed by the need—USDA received over 500 applications with a total request of nearly $64 million, indicating that many innovative farmers and ranchers are out in the countryside (and even in our cities!) with great business plans in need of capital. As Congress moves forward with development of the 2012 Farm Bill, farmers and eaters will have to fight hard to maintain funding for VAPG and programs like it. Farm Aid partners such as the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition have worked to support bills like the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act and the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, which include support for VAPG (and will hopefully get rolled into the next farm bill).

The continued success of VAPG calls to mind something our President Willie Nelson has said for a while now:

In 1985, we started out to save the family farmer. Now it looks like the family farmer is going to save us. As our nation continues to endure an historic economic downturn, America’s family farmers offer us much hope.

We couldn’t say it any better!

Click here to read more about the program and the list of farms and farm-based businesses awarded.


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