Thursday, March 1, 2012

USDA launches online tool to link farmers with nearby consumers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has unveiled its newest tool to promote local food systems, an online instrument that lets viewers see what local and regional food projects are under way in their area and read case studies, watch videos and see pictures from the field.

The "Food Compass" is the latest effort in the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" project, meant to expand the number of small, local farmers and ranchers who serve their communities. An interactive map lets viewers see USDA-supported projects related to local food systems in place across the country. That includes information about access to local meals, careers in agriculture and access to healthy food.

The written section includes stories about local food system projects, whether that pertains to farm-to-school, farm-to-hospital and farm-to-institution programs; local meat processing; hoophouses; urban farms; organic farms; and school gardens. Readers can see how people are putting their USDA funds to work to connect to their communities.

The compass notes that buying and selling food at the local, rather than mass consumer, level is a growing trend. In 2011, more than 85 percent of customers asked by the National Grocers Association said they chose to shop at a grocery store based in part on whether it carries food grown from local producers. More than 2,000 schools across the country have farm-to-school programs, and more than 7,000 American cities and towns have farmers' markets. The growing trend is a positive thing since it is "spurring job growth, keeping more farmers on the land and more wealth in rural communities," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. To view the compass, click here.

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