Is the USDA Going to Help or Hurt the Local and Organic Farming Communities?

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We woke up Monday morning to this article in The New York Times–and can’t help but feel hopeful (or nervous, not sure which)!

In a nutshell, it looks like our real food movement is going mainstream. Isn’t that what it’s called when the government gets involved?

In the article, author Stephanie Strom lays it out:

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) plans to announce Monday that it will spend $52 million to support local and regional food systems like farmers’ markets and food hubs and to spur research on organic farming.

The local food movement has been one of the fastest growing segments of the business, as consumers seek to know more about where, how and by whom their food is grown. But local farmers still struggle to market their food.

Distribution systems are intended to accommodate the needs of large-scale commercial farms and growers. Grocery stores and restaurants largely rely on big distribution centers and are only beginning to figure out how to incorporate small batches of produce into their overall merchandise mixes.

Apparently we have Senator Debbie Stabenow, (D-Michigan) to thank for getting this bill through what appears to be the biggest ‘do-nothingest’ Congress in memory. Way to go, Senator!

Local farmers still struggle to market their food.

As farmers’ markets and food hubs have grown in numbers over the years, we’ve followed this trend vociferously here at HPN. We started this website in 2011 to give voice to the local real food movements springing up, as they should, regionally, around the country.

For a while, the government didn’t seem too interested. It appears now they are. And for better or worse, the government is involved.

And lo and behold, a quote from the Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack–a guy we never thought would come around:

These types of local food systems are the cornerstones of our plans to revitalize the rural economy. If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture where products get shipped in large quantities somewhere else, helping the economy there.

Of course he is stating the obvious–duh! But it is a start.

Here are the numbers:

The $52 million will be the first outlay to local and organic enterprises of the farm bill signed into law by President Obama in February, which tripled the amount of money aimed at that sector to $291 million. The organic business, which has long complained that the Agriculture Department does not support it financially, will get $125 million over the next five years for research and $50 million for conservation programs.

The department will also be putting $30 million a year into marketing programs for farmers’ markets and promotion of locally grown foods, and has an additional $70 million available as a block grant to support more research on so-called specialty crops, or fruits and vegetables.

So here’s to hoping that this helps the real food movement, and that government can indeed “do good.”

It’s possible, right?

Please read Ms. Strom’s thoughtful article in its entirety and tell us in the comments:

Will government help the local organic food movement, or would you prefer they stay out of it?

Photo credit: Staci Strauss