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Using a compass to find farmers and food

March 22, 2012

Using a compass to find farmers and food

Earlier this month U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan unveiled the on-line Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass. It points you to USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) outcomes from their “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Initiative” launched in 2009 – a directive to agriculture agencies and staff offices to support local and regional food developments. Click on Compass and you’ll be introduced to farmers, ranchers, businesses and communities throughout the country – applying innovation and new ventures to make a difference in the food chain. Compass includes an interactive map that allows you to search activities by state. For example, view this article about the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program that helped this Minnesota Hmong farmer with business skills training.

Moving forward, we will continue to grapple with environmental and economic challenges to ensure a healthy food supply for all. Portraits of local and regional food activities featured on the Compass will be an on-going work in progress. I am happy to applaud the USDA’s efforts on Compass, but am also reminded of a phrase from microeconomics – “necessary but not sufficient”. A re-structuring of our local and regional food systems will take more than one initiative, or year, or decade. For starters, our farm bill needs to reflect support for a much broader range of agricultural enterprises, not just mega-monoculture. As local and regional agriculture continues to boost the farm economy, farm bill policy and programs must encompass small-to-mid-size farms and crop diversity, and include beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition just published “Farming for the Future: A Sustainable Agriculture Agenda for the 2012 Farm Bill” – a substantial document arguing for farm bill revision – at least read the summary.  It makes sense that our farm bill be pro-active about rural economic and job growth, protecting our natural resources, revamping farm subsidies and funding agricultural research and education for a new farm economy.

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