Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"

"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" is an initiative of the USDA said to create new economic opportunities by better connecting consumers with local producers.

Is it really possible that something other than more regulation is finally coming out of the USDA, or is this an effort to catalog and control local food which is becoming a threat to Big Ag? I have some serious doubts about the program since the trend seems to be putting small farmers out of business no matter what the People want.

I spent some time on the website for this initiative, and it all reads like a very positive step in the right direction. Their stated Mission is to support local farmers, strengthen rural communities, promote healthy eating and protect natural resources. (Of course, that's what I thought they were supposed to be doing all along.)

Under the tab of 'strengthen rural communities', they list: Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (RD), Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program, Community Facilities Program (like community kitchens), Community Outreach and Assistance Partnerships, Rural Business Opportunity Grants, Rural Business Enterprise Grant Program (RD).

The tab 'promote healthy eating' includes community food projects like food banks, and the Senior's Farmers' Market Nutrition Program. I know I have seen small notices at my local farmer's market for chits low income seniors may use for foods at the market, and in my state the contact is the Virginia Dept. of Aging although I think DSS manages the money via food stamps. (So far that project has doled out 22 million dollars nationally.)

'Protect natural resources' has a $50 million set-aside for farmers who would like to convert to organic production. That is a million dollars per state (if it gets distributed that way), and it covers salaries of the paid technical assistance in addition to the cost-share of the conversions.

One of the projects under 'support local farmers' is the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (NIFA). Twenty-five percent of the projects funded must address the specific needs of "limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, including minorities, immigrants, women, and farm workers who want to become farmers". Who can apply: State, tribal and local governments; non-profit and community-based organizations; colleges and universities; other appropriate partners as determined by the Secretary.

To me, that means I could not apply for funding to become a farmer, but the 25% specific needs funding could go to a local college or government agency with a program to assist development along those lines. So the program pays for expert assistance, but no actual money to the wannabe farmer to help purchase land, equipment?

As near as I could tell overall, very few dollars will actually go to the small farmer who needs help in any area, and then probably in the form of loans, provided they are saavy enough to write a brilliant proposal.

I'm not impressed.

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