USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food
Healthy Eating: Promotion of good nutrition and healthy eating habits is a longstanding part of USDA’s mission.
USDA’s ‘Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food’ initiative will connect consumers with local producers and help create new economic opportunities for communities.
This is the start of a national dialogue between the USDA and you – farmers, ranchers, businesses, community organizations, governments, schools, consumers. Government doesn’t have all the answers – the issues that we’re addressing require local solutions and local resolve.
Republican Senators Take Aim at Small Farmers, Urban Consumers, and Locavores
Author, Watershed Media Director
Huffington Post, June 17, 2010
In late April, a trio of Republican senators — John McCain (AZ), Saxby Chambliss (GA), and Pat Roberts (KS) — wrote an angry letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, debunking a recent USDA program called “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food.” This initiative distributes grant money and loans with the goal of strengthening local food chains and linking consumers with farmers.
The Senators accuse USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan of diverting urgently needed funds from rural communities in favor of: 1) “specialty crops” (the government’s term for fruits, nuts, and vegetables, of which the USDA recommends each of us eat at least five servings a day); and 2) small growers and organic farmers (who the Senators stereotype as hobby producers “whose customers generally consist of affluent patrons at urban farmers markets.”)
They conclude that:
American families and rural farmers are hurting in today’s economy, and it’s unclear to us how propping up the urban locavore markets addresses their needs. Given our nation’s crippling budgetary crisis, we also believe the federal government cannot afford to spend precious rural development funds on feel-good measures which are completely detached from the realities of production agriculture.
The not so subtle subtext of this letter is that to be a “real” farmer, you must be engaged in “production agriculture.” One can only assume this means corn, cotton, wheat, rice, and soybean production — the five primary commodity crops grown across hundreds of millions of acres in factory fields, propped up by the lion’s share of $15-plus billion in yearly USDA farm bill payments. In their view, the small producers benefiting from the Know Your Farmer program are not just do-gooders raising organic heirlooms for elite urbanites. They’re sucking away subsidies that should be going to the nation’s real farmers. Never mind that there are now more than 5,000 farmers markets across the country; or that an average of 10 million Americans shop at one on any given Saturday during the harvest season; or that farming organically is extremely hard and valuable work.