USDA Invests $52 Million in Organic Farming and Local Food Systems

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The USDA is taking a big interest in organic farming. The agency is expected to announce on Monday that it’s making a $52 million investment in research on organic farming and in support of local food systems including the nation’s booming number of farmers' markets.

Some of the funding will go to help support marketing efforts for organic farming and local farmers markets, many of which struggle to reach audiences in nearby communities.

“Distribution systems are intended to accommodate the needs of large-scale commercial farms and growers,” reports the New York Times. “Grocery stores and restaurants largely rely on big distribution centers and are only beginning to figure out how to incorporate small batches of produce into their overall merchandise mixes.”

Despite the difficulties small growers face in the marketplace, demand is on the uptick. “Farmers’ markets are proliferating around the country, increasing 76 percent to 8,268 since 2008,” reports the Times, “but they have trouble marketing themselves. And few consumers are aware of a website the department created to help them find a farmers' market in their area.”

Now more than ever, though, connecting with small-scale organic farming models is becoming increasingly important. “The organic business, which has long complained that the Agriculture Department does not support it financially, will get $125 million over the next five years for research and $50 million for conservation programs,” the Times noted. The UN recently suggested that supporting small-scale farming operations is going to be a key tool in defeating world hunger. “These types of local food systems are the cornerstones of our plans to revitalize the rural economy,” Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, told the Times. “If you can connect local produce with markets that are local, money gets rolled around in the local community more directly compared to commercial agriculture where products get shipped in large quantities somewhere else, helping the economy there.”

Credit the farm bill, which was signed into law in February, for this chunk of funding going to organic farming and local food systems. Priorities seem to be shifting, and a focus on building regional food systems can't come too soon—especially as California's drought shows no sign of relief. California supplies the nation with half of its fruit and vegetables.

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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