On Monday, I headed to the White House to take part in a “National Virtual Conversation” about local and regional food. The event, hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), was part two in the kickoff of their new Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass – an online multi-media tool that maps USDA’s recent investments in local and regional food, and provides colorful narrative and case studies demonstrating the invaluable contributions of family farmers and food entrepreneurs engaged in these markets.
While there were maybe one hundred people in the room, including farmers, policy analysts and tech designers, hundreds more joined online, mostly via Twitter, in what White House Office of Public Engagement Director Jon Carson said may set a record for online participation at a White House event.
Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, the engineer behind the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort, led the conversation, joined by Carson (above) and Sam Cass, White House Chef and Policy Advisor. A number of friends of Farm Aid and projects we’ve been proud to support over the years were highlighted during the course of the event, including Farm Aid Farmer Hero David Marvel, who’s been paving the way in Delaware for connecting healthy farm fresh food to rural public schools, as well as EcoTrust’s FoodHub online market aggregator and FamilyFarmed.org’s On-Farm Food Safety tool.
If you haven’t had a chance to look at the Compass, I recommend digging in. It’s exciting to see the USDA engaging with the greater public in this way, and they want to hear from you about how to improve the tool’s offerings and the programs it highlights. With the next Farm Bill right around the corner, there is real opportunity ahead for ensuring USDA local and regional efforts continue to get funding and grow in scale.
To see Farm Aid’s take on the importance of local and regional markets, check out our 2010 report Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems.