Know Your Farmer, Know Your Co-Op!

Article excerpt

On Sept. 14, 2009, we publicly launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative, a USDA-wide effort that aims to create new economic opportunities and promote healthy eating. At a time when more Americans than ever are becoming interested in where their food comes from and how it is produced, we are also seeing mid-sized farmers struggling to maintain solvency. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative seeks to capitalize on this first trend while reversing the second.

As I look back on our efforts over the past year, it is clear to me that the initiative would not be what it is today without the vibrant partnership USDA has long enjoyed with various cooperative businesses. Many of the co-ops highlighted in each issue of this publication are particularly well-suited to advancing the goals of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.

Whether they take the form of mobile slaughter units, food hubs or a myriad of others, these cooperative businesses are making it easier for consumers to purchase healthy foods and develop a relationship with the farmers and ranchers who help put that food on their plates. In addition, because the cooperative business model makes it more likely for wealth to remain in local communities, these co-ops are helping rural communities maintain economic vitality.

The enduring relationship that USDA and rural cooperatives enjoy is exemplified by the Hillside Farmers coop in southeastern Minnesota, the recent recipient of a Small, Socially Disadvantaged Producer Grant from USDA Rural Development (see page 13). The grant will help the co-op--a partnership between new Latino farmers and established farmers in the region dedicated to producing food in sustainable ways--develop the network of producers and consumers that is necessary for them to flourish. …