Magazine article Rural Cooperatives

Local Food Investments Expand Market Opportunities

Magazine article Rural Cooperatives

Local Food Investments Expand Market Opportunities

Article excerpt

Editor's note: Starmer is senior advisor to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on local and regional food systems.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in May announced a historic level of funding available for local and regional food: $78 million. This funding includes $48 million available through USDA's Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program and $30 million available through the newly expanded Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program.

The 2014 Farm Bill gave USDA these and other tools and resources, expanding our ability to connect rural and urban communities, increase access to healthy foods and to support rural economies through local food systems. Farmer cooperatives are eligible for these programs, and many co-ops have received funds under them.

Since 2009, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP)-now expanded into the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program--has funded more than 450 projects. Penn's Corner Farm Alliance is an example of a co-op that is using the FMPP program.

A farmer-owned cooperative of 30 farms in southwestern Pennsylvania, Penn's Corner Farm Alliance used the funds to make infrastructure upgrades to its cooperative market, including new refrigerated storage and trucks. The Alliance, which serves three dozen restaurants and more than 700 community supported agriculture (CSA) members in Pittsburgh, has seen its business grow 12-fold in the past five years. The co-op's farmers use sustainable farming practices, and many of them grow organically, producing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, dairy foods and meats.

While Pittsburgh consumers benefit from the project, rural farmers and ranchers in the surrounding area are equal partners. Fostering this type of rural-urban connection and mutual opportunity through local food systems is a cornerstone of USDA's work.

With expanded authority and funding through the 2014 Farm Bill, the Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program has the potential to help establish more cooperatives and other businesses across the country that are helping to meet the demand for local foods. …

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