Is the USDA truly supporting local and regional agriculture?

March 2012

Dear Farm Aid,

I heard about the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative from the USDA, and I like what it's all about. Is the USDA truly supporting local and regional agriculture?

Erin D.
Chicago, IL

Good food from local and regional family farms is all the rage these days. But it wasn't always this way.

Ever since the first concert in 1985, at a time when family farmers were pushed off the land in droves, Farm Aid has worked hard to promote family farm agriculture. That work has evolved over the years, but at its core has always been the belief that family farmers are the backbone of America—not only are they the providers of the food that feeds us, but they are also stewards of the land and pillars of local economies. When family farmers thrive, we all thrive.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
Does USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food program do enough?

But as we've said many times before, our family farmers are threatened by the tight grip of corporate agriculture and federal policies that support it. Unless we start taking our food system back into our own hands, that won't change. Recent initiatives at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), like Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF2), are a sign that our work has started to pay off. But how much and for how long?

A new direction?

A few years ago, the USDA launched the KYF2 initiative to strengthen the connection between farmers and consumers and "better meet critical goals, including reinvigorating rural economies, promoting job growth, and increasing healthy food access in America."  

That was sweet music to our ears, particularly after seeing the federal government tout giant agribusinesses and industrial agriculture as the solution for our economy, for decades.

At its start, USDA's KYF2 initiative mostly promoted existing programs already funded by Congress. Programs like the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, which supports farmers who process their raw products to add value to their businesses and retain a higher portion of the retail dollar. Or the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP), to support the next crop of farmers and ranchers with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

More recently, the USDA unveiled the KYF2 Compass, an interactive site that more fully lays out the benefits of local and regional agriculture and highlights what the USDA is doing to support it. The Compass covers seven themes: local food infrastructure, stewardship and local food, local meat and poultry, farm to institution, healthy food access, careers in agriculture, and local food knowledge. It includes a hefty report that celebrates work being done around the country to rebuild local and regional food infrastructure and support small and mid-sized farmers, as well as an interactive map, stories and facts highlighting USDA research.

The focus of KYF2 is a big shift that's generated a lot of buzz; never before has the USDA shined such a spotlight on local, sustainable, organic, and small and mid-sized farms. At the Compass launch event last month (Farm Aid was there!), a White House official expressed astonishment at the public response they were getting from supporters of local and regional agriculture and family farmers on Twitter. "I don't think we've ever had this type of participation before," he stated. "Keep tweeting!" And to that we say, "Keep supporting this kind of agriculture!"

But is it really a shift?

Several folks have noted that the KYF2 program has not been allocated fulltime staff or funding. The USDA is often subject to intense scrutiny from those (like us at Farm Aid) who think it needs to do much more to support local and regional food systems while cracking down on corporate concentration, but they're also subject to the power plays of Congressmen who claim KYF2 is a waste of energy and that most Americans don't and never will eat local food.

At Farm Aid, we know firsthand that a growing number of folks are in fact clamoring for local food and we hope KYF2 is just the start. The initiative has done a lot to raise the profile of good food and validate consumer support for family farmers, and the new Compass demonstrates the considerable value of local and regional markets. But we also know KYF2 is dwarfed by other programs at USDA and the billions of dollars that buttress the status quo of corporate-controlled agriculture. What's more, many of the programs showcased in KYF2—programs that have been crucial in getting new farmers on the land and expanding local and regional food systems—will be targeted for cuts in the Farm Bill negotiations taking place this year.

The very farmers and ranchers that make local and regional food systems thrive are the same ones most threatened by trends of corporate consolidation and industrialization in agriculture. It is time that our policies work to support family farmers—true innovators and entrepreneurs in our society—who give us a real foundation upon which to build our economy.

That's why it's essential that we keep supporting this work, both at the national scale and in our communities where family farm-centered food systems are taking root. It's why we must engage in the Farm Bill and make sure our Congressmen know that we want to see the work represented by KYF2 continue and grow.

So tell us, what do you think of USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative?

Further Reading

Your thoughtful comments are encouraged. Farm Aid does not censor or refuse comments for content unless they are spam or a personal attack. All comments containing links need to be manually approved to ensure they are not spam.

blog comments powered byDisqus

A New Farm Economy Rises from Tobacco’s Ashes - August, 2014

10 Things the New Census of Agriculture Tells Us About Family Farmers and Our Food System - July 2014

How will the Keystone XL pipeline affect our farmers and farmland? - April, 2014

Parched: What the West shows us about our water future - March, 2014

What does Farm Aid do with the money that it raises at the annual concert? - October 2013

I live in New York and dairy farmers seem to be struggling. What can I do to help? - September 2013

I have heard horror stories about the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico this year. How can farmers better support our waterways? - July 2013

I finally got around to watching "Food, Inc." I was floored to see what poultry producers actually go through. Is this really what's behind the chicken on my plate? - May 2013

Why is it so difficult for farmers to find affordable farmland these days? - March 2013

The PBS documentary about the Dust Bowl was amazing – what a disaster of epic proportions and a reminder of how important the soil is to our lives! How do today’s farmers care for the soil? - November 2012

The other day, I came across "grassfed beef" in the supermarket. Aren't all beef cattle fed grass? If not, what do they eat? Is this something I should feed my family? - October 2012

How do I find a university that values family farmers and the Good Food Movement? - September 2012

I'm a big supporter of organic agriculture, but some of my friends say it isn't a practical way to feed the world. Is that true? - August 2012

How does someone with no experience get into farming? - August 2012

How is climate change affecting family farmers? What are they doing about it? - April 2012

Is the USDA truly supporting local and regional agriculture?  - March 2012

I'm concerned about the use of antibiotics in farm animals and would like to find antibiotic-free meat and poultry products. Any suggestions? - February 2012

How does the occupy movement relate to farmers? - January 2012

What can you tell me about family farm turkey? - November 2011

How will labeling genetically engineered food do anything for family farmers? - October 2011

Word is big cuts are in store for farmers in the upcoming Farm Bill. What is the Farm Bill and what will budget cuts mean for family farmers? - September 2011

I've been seeing a lot of farm plots spring up around the city. I didn't even realize people could farm in cities—how can I get involved in this! - August 2011

This year’s weather has been a nightmare and lots of farms in my area are struggling. What help is there available for farmers struck by disaster? - July 2011

I watched "Food, Inc." recently and was surprised by how animals were treated and meat was produced in America. This seems crazy to me. Why can’t we get meat from better sources? - June 2011

A lot of farmers in my area are leasing their land for hydraulic fracturing — is it good or bad? What do farmers say? - June 2011

What's a food hub? How can they help me? - April 2011

High farm prices are in the news — are farmers getting rich? - March 2011

I know the U.S. government just allowed a few new GE crops on the market — should I be worried? - February 2011

How can I find food from local farmers during the cold winter months? - January 2011

A year-in-review on corporate concentration in agriculture. - November 2010

Can you tell me about starting farm to school programs? I’m a farmer and I’d love to provide schools in my area with healthy food. - October 2010

No offense, but what has Farm Aid really done all these years aside from put on a good concert? - September 2010

I really want to get local meats, but they don't seem to be available. Why is that? - August 2010

Answering reader questions with our report, "Rebuilding America’s Economy with Family Farm-Centered Food Systems" - July 2010

I just read an article that anticipates 200 dairies will go under in my state by the end of 2010. Why are dairy farmers in so much trouble right now? - June 2010

How is credit affecting family farmers right now? - May 2010

What exactly is a family farm? How does it differ from a factory farm? - April 2010

What's up with food safety? Could new laws hurt family farmers? - March 2010

How can a food system that offers so much variety be constricting consumer choice? - February 2010

I keep hearing about "concentration" in farming. What does that mean and how does it affect me?  - January 2010

What’s Farm Aid’s grant program all about? Where does all the money go? - December 2009

Why are you thankful for family farmers? The Farm Aid staff responds. - November 2009

What are some ways people can get involved in farm activism? - October 2009

I've been seeing a lot of interest lately in seed saving. It seems like a lot of work, why bother? - September 2009

Are factory farms still a threat to America’s family farmers? - August 2009

Do you have any tips for how to fit a farmers market into my busy life? - July 2009

What’s the best way to get more farm fresh food into my child’s school cafeteria? - June 2009

How do I get involved in the dairy crisis at the grassroots level? - May 2009

How can we fix the food safety system without hurting family farmers? - April 2009

How exactly are GE crops regulated? And how can I be sure that I am protected? - March 2009

Dairy farmers are struggling for survival right now - why? - February 2009

Is there a reason why Farm Aid doesn’t grant more to individual farmers? - January 2009

How is the credit crisis affecting farmers and agriculture in America? - December 2008

What does the change in administration mean for family farmers? - November 2008

Where do John McCain and Barack Obama stand on agricultural issues? - October 2008

Does Farm Aid know of any programs that help young people start their own farm? - September 2008

Just how does Farm Aid decide where to host the show each year? - August 2008

Laura looks back on three years answering your questions - July 2008

I try to buy local and from family farmers whenever possible. Why is it so hard to find meat from area farmers? - June 2008

How do you decide who is and isn’t a family farmer? How many family farmers are there in the United States? - May 2008

I see raw milk from time to time at my local grocery, some folks say it’s good –others say its dangerous- what’s the deal? - April 2008

I seem to be spending more and more at the grocery store these days. Is it true that corn prices and ethanol are making my food cost more? - March 2008

I feel like I used to see a lot more in the news about GMOs. I haven’t managed to keep up to date and now I’m not really even sure what’s out there. Could you give me a little update on GMOs? - February 2008

What’s going on with the Farm Bill? Didn’t it pass recently? Is there anything good for family farmers in it? - January 2008

What do farmers do in the winter? - December 2007

What are you serving for Thanksgiving? - November 2007

How did Farm Aid replace the typical concert foods at Farm Aid 2007 and what were the criteria? - October 2007

What do Farm Aid folks do during the winter? - September 2007

Can you suggest some ways to drink locally or seasonally? - August 2007

Is it legal and humane to keep chickens in the city? - July 2007

Is it possible to compost in the city? - June 2007

Should everyone who wants to lessen their impact on the environment consider giving up meat? - May 2007

Can you suggest farm related activities for kids to do? - April 2007

Am I supporting family farmers when I purchase a product labeled organic? - March 2007

Can you help me simplify my food shopping in a way that still supports my values? - February 2007

What New Year's resolutions can I make that will support family farmers? - January 2007

How does Farm Aid help family farmers, where does the money go? - December 2006

How can I find a family farm turkey for Thanksgiving? - November 2006

Is it possible to shop locally on a budget? - October 2006

Why can't I get any of this "delicious food from family farmers" at the Farm Aid concert? - September 2006

Do you have any advice for developing classroom activities involving good food? - August 2006

Who are the farmers in the United States? - July 2006

What kind of work is Farm Aid doing with biodiesel? - June 2006

When will tomatoes be available in farmers markets? - May 2006

Are factory farm birds safer than outdoor birds? - April 2006

Could you tell me a little about the food in New Orleans today? Can you even get local foods in the city? - March 2006

What is biodynamic farming? - February 2006

Why do different companies promote different kinds of pasteurization for milk? - January 2006

How can I eat seasonally year-round if nothing is growing in my area? - December 2005

With all of the devastating elements that farmers have to face, who can help them when a disaster comes? - November 2005

Why is it so hard to find fresh, locally grown produce in my area of Staten Island, NY? - October 2005

What is a "family farm food system"? - June 2005

How can I find a farm near me? - May 2005

What does April on the farm mean in different states? - April 2005

Who are the corporate players in the meat industry? - March 2005

What questions can I ask my grocer? - February 2005

An Introduction to Ask Laura - January 2005

What is grass roots organizing? - August 2005

Where does school food come from? - July 2005