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Innovation Increases Access to Local Food and Regional Foods

Last Published: 06/17/2013
Tony Craddock, Jr.

We now live in what is commonly called "The Information Age"; if you want access to information, it's readily available through numerous avenues. There is a growing movement among consumers to be more aware about the origin of their food and its contents. Farmers are delighted to meet this need, as the increased interest in local foods is economically beneficial to them. According to USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan, "Local food is a rapidly growing trend in American agriculture. It offers additional market opportunities for farmers, ranchers and food business entrepreneurs while enabling consumers to develop a deeper understanding of where their food comes from and how it is produced." It is important to note that local food is not necessarily produced locally. By definition, according to the USDA Economic Research Service, local food is, ?based on marketing arrangements, such as farmers selling directly to consumers at regional farmers? markets or to schools." Local food sold in Virginia may be produced in Pennsylvania, but it is the direct sell from the farmer to the vendor that makes it local. Both the federal government and private businesses are responding to the needs of this movement in creative ways.

Agriculture Deputy Secretary MerriganAgriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan stakes tomatoes in the USDA People's Garden

In 2009, USDA launched the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" (KYF2) initiative to assist in strengthening local and regional food systems. The "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" Compass is a national map with information including local food projects, farmers markets, meat processors, and food hubs. This tool was created to coordinate, share resources, and publicize USDA efforts related to these food systems. Innovations are also sprouting up where businesses are empowering their communities with access to local foods through non-traditional routes. BreadSRSL, based out of San Francisco, CA, bakes and sells whole grain, gluten-free bread. All ingredients are from local, sustainable producers. Wonder how they sell it? They sell it through a business named Good Eggs, a local food marketplace which serves as an intermediary for local food producers and consumers. While the local foods can exist, there must be an infrastructure in place to make the goods easily accessible to the public. Both the KYF2 Compass and businesses like Good Eggs fulfill that need.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food compass

When buying local, it is important to support small farmers, who comprise nearly 80% of the entire farming community, yet only account for 10% of the market share for local foods. Local foods are not just an investment in the health of the community, but its economy as well. Increased information equals increased power, thus consumers can influence the agricultural market by being the change that they want to see. Want local food? Go for it!