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We Can Fund That! USDA Grants Help the Local Food Movement Grow.

February 08, 2012

"On Friday, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer effort, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the largest allotmant of grants for value-added producers in recent history: nearly 300 grants across 44 states and Puerto Rico — to the tune of $44 million.

Merrigan announced the grants at The Many Faces of Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, a one-day conference hosted at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. The event focused on “successful models, resources, strategies and opportunities for supporting, cultivating and growing local/regional food systems in the Midwest.”The Value Added producer Grant Program has been around since 2000, and has seen increased funding with each successive farm bill since.

“These grants are just some of the tools in USDA’s tool kits to help farmers. More value-added products increase their bottom lines,” she told me. “Like the kid who has a pumpkin operation, who grows up and develops a pumpkin puree product so there’s year-round business.”

The grants also went toward projects that educate value-added producers and provide them with infrastructure help, like Vermont Food Venture Center, a shared-use kitchen incubator for value-added and specialty food producers in Hardwick, Vt. Another example is the Food innovation Center, where experts in the field conduct studies related to product development, packaging, shelf life, consumer acceptance, economic feasibility, and product marketing.

“The local food movement really took off with most folks selling direct through farmers markets and CSAs, and that’s great,” says Slama, “and yet 97 percent of the food consumed in America goes through the wholesale markets. So if we’re really going to create new markets for family farmers and cut food miles, we have to figure out how to get into these markets."

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