"use existing USDA programs to break down structural barriers that have inhibited local food systems from thriving." That would mark a major shift away from supporting industrialized food production, which has pretty much been the USDA's stock in trade since its inception.
The preliminary programs are fairly simple and low key: money available for marketing programs for small farmers, regs (from the 2008 Farm Bill) that will -- theoretically -- make things easier for small-scale meat producers funding for farm co-ops, and a grant for a food processing trade organization.
Maybe the biggest initiative so far is the USDA's plan to inject more local foods into school lunches across the country. The USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service will join forces to form "Farm to School Tactical Teams" that will tour the country, helping people in trouble while educating local school administrators on the fine art of buying from farmers.Who was that masked bureaucrat?
The more practical side of the Farm to School initiative is that the USDA will streamline its rules to make it easier for schools to use federal money for local foods: "The agencies will also issue updated common-sense purchasing guidance to schools so they can buy fresh, locally grown produce for students eating through USDA's school nutrition programs."
Down in Sarasota, the school system is well ahead of the curve on this issue, having instituted a Farm to School program a few years back. Hillsborough? Pinellas? They'll likely need to take advantage of the USDA tactical teams.
Yesterday, the USDA announced a new initiative — called "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" — aimed at linking consumers with local agricultural products. The organization said that there'd be $65 million in funding for the program announced within the next week.
Impressive? Sure, but keep that number in perspective. The USDA's 2010 budget will likely top $134 billion, making KYFKYF a meager .5% of total expenditures. And that's only if we assume that $65 million will be spent in a single year, which, likely, it won't.
Perhaps the most exciting quote from the press release, however, is a promise to