New USDA Initiative Aims to Build Capacity and Strengthen Local Food Systems

From our friends at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

For local and regional food systems to thrive, farmers and rural producers increasingly need to access customers in urban areas and be able to offer products that meet their unique needs and demands. “Value chains” and “value-adding” have long been solutions to this problem. Value-adding is simply the process by which farmers and producers are able to transform their raw ingredients (e.g. kale, basil, berries) into items that can sell at higher prices, like salad mixes, sauces, and jams. The value chain is the process that makes that transformation possible – the supply networks, equipment, and processing facilities, as well as the people and skills needed to make everything run smoothly.

On Thursday, March 31, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in partnership with the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Delta Regional Authority (DRA), and 15 philanthropic partners, announced the creation of the Leveraging Investment for Network Coordination (“Food LINC”) initiative, which is designed to grow local and regional food economies through value chain development. The inaugural roll out of Food LINC will target 10 regions across the country, connecting rural producers with urban buyers using a combined public/private investment of nearly $3 million.

The Surdna Foundation, one of the project’s philanthropic partners, will also provide additional support for the Wallace Center at Winrock International to facilitate peer-to-peer exchanges that will help participants share best practices and evaluate the overall success of the initiative.

“USDA, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority recognized that our investments in local food infrastructure have the most success in communities with strong coordination between producers, food purchasers, and access to shared resources. Food LINC aims to replicate that coordination in ten cities to create market opportunities for the areas’ producers, meet demand for locally produced food and create or sustain jobs along that local supply chain,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “More than 160,000 farmers are tapping into demand for local and regional foods, and industry estimates predict more growth in the next several years. With the help from our partners, USDA can ‘supercharge’ our resources to create lasting impacts for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities as a whole.”

Food LINC is being launched as part of USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2), an effort spearheaded by the Obama Administration in 2009 to enhance coordination and efficiency among the various USDA agencies and programs that work to build local and regional farm and food systems. With interest in local and regional foods, markets, and programs booming, this program has the potential to make significant impact for rural producers and urban buyers alike.

Target  regions, host organizations, and funding partners for the NESAWG 12-state region include the following:
Chesapeake Region: Washington Metro Council of Governments; Prince Charitable Trust, Agua Foundation, Town Creek Foundation
Delaware Valley Region: Fair Food Philly; RSF Social Finance, Surdna Foundation

For more information, read the USDA News Release.

Photo Credit: USDA