Saturday, November 21, 2009

Moving in the right direction - local food support from the top!

Thought this was a great artilce....moving in the right direction!

USDA launches new local food initiative (09/15/2009)
Allison Winter, E&E reporter

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack launched a sweeping new federal initiative today aimed at breaking down some of the bureaucratic barriers to regional food systems and supporting local food.

The "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" campaign will employ existing USDA programs -- many of which have been solely focused on large-scale production agriculture -- to support local and regional food systems. For example, the administration announced plans today to alter its requirements for meat processing plants to allow small state-certified plants to ship across state lines for the first time. The new rules will alter previous requirements for a federal certification that kept some small ranchers near state borders from being able to ship their product to the nearest town.

The agency also released $4.8 million in grants for universities and programs across the country that focus on local agricultural jobs. And the agency also kicked off a new program that will look for ways to incorporate more local foods in school lunches. USDA plans to alter some food procurement rules for schools to allow them to buy minimally processed foods locally and invest at least $50 million per year in the program.

Today's announcements are the beginning of what Vilsack says will be a larger effort to direct an array of programs to help support local food systems. A task force will look for more opportunities to support local food systems in the coming year.

"By reconnecting consumers with local producers, we will create income opportunities for farmers, we can promote sustainable agricultural practices, and we can help generate wealth that will stay in rural communities," Vilsack said in an online video posted to launch the campaign. "And we can decrease the amount of energy used to ship food all over the world."

The new initiative has the potential to put significant resources and heft into a local foods movement that has grown in popularity over the past three years in citizen groups, restaurants and farmers markets across the United States but has previously not significantly touched federal policy. Advocates for local foods have criticized the federal government for investing billions of dollars each year in agriculture programs that do little to help very small farmers who grow fruit or vegetables or raise animals for consumption.

"This reflects a new attitude within USDA to recognize and serve the broad spectrum on American agriculture," said Aimee Witteman, executive director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, who praised the new initiative.

Vilsack's No. 2 at the agency, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, is helping to lead the effort. Merrigan has long been an advocate for local and organic foods. Prior to joining the Obama administration, she researched sustainable agriculture and led the agriculture, food and environment program at Tufts University. Merrigan said in her confirmation hearings earlier this year that her "goal and passion" would be to make sure the Child Nutrition Act improves access to fresh food, especially fruits and vegetables in school lunch programs.