Last spring First Lady Michelle Obama planted an organic garden at the White House in what was just the first in a series of measures by the Obama Administration to improve access to fresh local foods.
One of these measures is the “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food” Initiative created by US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The initiative is designed to not only support local farmers but also to strengthen rural communities, promote healthy eating, and protect natural resources.
“An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture,” said Vilsack. “Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food.”
Secretary Vilsack recorded a video to invite Americans to join the discussion and share their ideas for ways to support local agriculture.
As he says in this video, the campaign is designed to begin a national conversation to help develop local and regional food systems and spur economic opportunity.
This means that the USDA is looking for input from consumers, farmers, ranchers, schools, community organizations and businesses about ways to address the issues surrounding local food solutions.
They are encouraging people to send them ideas and stories about food, agriculture, and local and regional food systems. And, they want input in any format you want to provide it: by calling, emailing, and sending photographs and videotapes. Check out some of the stories and videos they’ve already received.
To encourage more people to get involved, they are taking advantage of the increased popularity of social media tools to create more of a dialogue and receive input on local food. Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan has already had two Facebook Chats to continue the national conversation about developing local and regional food systems and finding ways to support small and mid-sized farms. And, they want people to “fan” them on their Facebook page as well.
In December, Merrigan also announced that the USDA signed a cooperative agreement with the Fair Food Network, a Michigan-based organization working toward improving consumers’ access to healthy foods. This regional food system will have a strong urban-rural link by matching small and mid-size farms in rural southeast Michigan with urban markets, especially Detroit to bring them locally produced food, something that’s lacking there.
While some people have criticized the initiative as being more symbolic than helpful, and feel that it lacks real “teeth,” the USDA has actually started putting some money where it’s mouth is. It has provided $50 million on school lunch programs to get more local produce into school cafeterias and $4.8 million in grants to spur job growth in rural communities.
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