While there’s a lot of talk about the importance of local food, and more and more people trying to buy local, that doesn’t mean that it’s always easy to get. Often the logistics of local food are complicated and expensive to implement, both for the consumer and the producer.
Fortunately, local food enterprises are about to get a boost from the government. As part of the 2014 farm bill, $78 million is being invested into local and regional food systems, from farmers markets to processing facilities and distribution centers, with the hopes of boosting local, and particularly rural, economies.
“Consumer demand for locally-produced food is strong and growing, and farmers and ranchers are positioning their businesses to meet that demand. As this sector continues to mature, we see aggregation, processing and distribution enterprises across the local food supply chain growing rapidly. These historic USDA investments in support of local food give farmers and ranchers more market opportunities, provide consumers with more choices, and create jobs in both rural and urban communities,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.
$48 million of that money will go to loans for local food projects through Rural Development’s Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program. Through this loan program, cooperative organizations and corporations alike may apply for loans for projects that benefit the local community, of which local food projects may hopefully play a big role.
The additional $30 million is being made available through grants from the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program. Available to farmers markets and businesses in the local food supply chain, this program is tripling funding for marketing and promotion support for local food enterprises.
Why is the government deciding to inject money into farmers markets and other local food endeavors? Because it’s proven to be good for economy.
Take food hubs for example. When it comes to distribution, often, even if there’s demand for locally produced food, small-scale, independent farmers can’t always take on all the work that distribution demands. Then a food hub comes in, playing a serious role in increasing what a farm is able to provide to customers, something that’s both beneficial to the farmer and for the food hub itself.
According to a study by Michigan State University, “More than 65 percent of food hubs operate independently from outside funding sources contributing significantly to the growth of their local economies. The average food hub’s sales in 2012 exceeded $3.7 million creating jobs. The average food hub maintains 19 paid positions supporting regional producers. The average food hub worked with 80 producers (i.e., farms and ranches), the majority of which are small or midsized contributing to food access.”
This allows farmers to create a sustainable income and creates regional markets that benefit the local community. “Food hubs are pivotal for meeting the growing demand for regionally produced, healthy food because they offer farmers a profitable channel for reaching wholesale markets, provide valuable aggregation and distribution services otherwise often missing, and efficiently manage relationships and transactions with buyers,” John Fisk, Wallace Center at Winrock International director, said in an MSU press release.
What will our future food economy look like? Hopefully, very local.
Photo Credit: USDA