USDA Releases Know Your Farmer Know Your Food Compass Webinar

Uploaded by usda on 02.03.2012

Good afternoon.
I'm Secretary Tom Vilsack and I'm here with Deputy
Secretary Kathleen Merrigan,
the architect of "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food",
and we're delighted you're tuning in to this webinar
to learn about today's news.
In just a few minutes
you'll be able to take questions
we'll be able to take questions over Twitter.
The Deputy and I were just thinking back to 2009 when
we launched USDA's "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"
With it, we became involved in a national
Consumers are asking where their food comes from and
how it's produced.
Farmers and ranchers are seeking new economic
The next generation of farmers and ranchers is
ready to lead American agriculture.
USDA through "Know You Farmer" is responding to
all these trends and meeting the President's
promise to create new opportunities for farmers
of all types and sizes.
When we started "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" in
2009, Deputy Secretary Merrigan began the first
swing of a college tour to bring the nation's
students into this conversation.
She meant lots of young people and
lots of those young people are excited about farming and
we need the best and brightest to lead the
nation's food and agriculture system.
So far Deputy, I think you've visited 25 colleges and
universities on your tour and it continues.
In that time, "Know Your Farmer" has become
has made important progress, excuse me, hasn't it?
Yes it certainly has Mr. Secretary.
With a team of USDA experts, we've been hard
at work on the "Know Your Farmer" initiative which
has facilitated collaboration across
USDA's 17 agencies and many staff offices.
It's allowed us to be more
strategic and efficient in providing USDA support for
local and regional food systems.
To showcase this work, I'm pleased to announce
a new tool, "the Know Your Farmer,
Know Your Food Compass."
This is a practical, working document.
It's an electronic narrative and interactive
And since it will be constantly updated, it's
very much a living resource.
With the "Compass", we're putting a tool in the
hands of farmers, ranchers, businesses and
We're helping them navigate USDA resources
and programs that are useful to them and learn
more about what USDA is doing.
Take for example, one of my favorites
seasonal high tunnels also
known as hoop houses up from where I'm from.
They extend the growing season.
They've been hugely successful since 2010,
when USDA first made funds available within the EQIP
program to share the cost of their construction.
Thanks to this effort, and producer passion for
conserving resources and diversifying crops, there
are almost 4500 new high tunnels across the U.S.
in the past two years alone.
This is Earl Snell, a farmer in Alabama who's
using a USDA supported high tunnel to grow more
food for his community.
Can you believe that this photo of his tomato plants
was taken in December?
The "Compass" also highlights USDA's Farm
Service Agency's loans for farmland and farm storage
I'd like to introduce you to Zach Lester and Georgia
O'Neal, who used an FSA loan to purchase their own
farmland so they could grow crops to sell
I met them the day we announced "Know Your
Hi Deputy Secretary Merrigan, this is Zach Lester.
We are here at Tree and Leaf Farm in Unionville, Virginia
It's been two and a half years since I've first seen you
when we were trying to get a USDA mortgage and obviously we
got the mortgage.
We hit the ground running. Put up our tunnels,
went through the craziest winter ever
to keep our greenhouses up and we're back in market
in April of 2010. We're growing year round.
Things are going well. Our winter markets are really
strong. We're vitalizing and remineralizing our soils,
so we're happy.
Thank you very much.
"Know Your farmer, Know Your Food", that's me
and this is my son. Owen Lester.
Zach and Georgia, they are a real success story.
As they expand their sales, they're going to
need infrastructure like cold storage to keep their
products fresh.
When farmers and ranchers have this infrastructure
nearby, they keep more wealth in the community
and generate local business and jobs.
You can learn about this and more in the
"Know Your Farmer Compass."
We want your needs and interests to guide you
through USDA's resources.
You can explore examples of livestock and poultry
producers who connected with consumers interested
in buying local meat.
You'll see the map developed by USDA showing
where local processing facilities are, and learn
how we're supporting new ones.
You'll also meet Jen Hashley with the New Entry
Sustainable Farming Project in Lowell,
With USDA support, she worked with local farmers
and the state government to develop a mobile
facility to process poultry.
Dozens of producers are now using the unit and
making a steady income through direct marketing.
You know Kathleen, there's still another way that
"Know Your Farmer" is having an impact on the future of
farming and agriculture.
At USDA, we've seen how support for local and
regional food helps recruit and retain a new
generation of farmers and ranchers.
Many young and beginning farmers start out in local
Some stay there, and some scale up.
These markets are key to revitalizing our rural
They bring young people into agriculture and they keep
farmers and ranchers on the land.
You can learn more about beginning farmer resources
in the Compass as well.
So USDA's doing a lot of hard work at the farm level.
But the "Know Your Farmer Compass" also shares
important ideas about how we support the markets
that connect these producers with consumers.
It sure does.
That's because we know that by tapping into the
growing market for local foods, our farmers and
ranchers can increase their incomes, diversify
their business, and explore new opportunities.
Now what do these new market opportunities look like?
Well, most of you are familiar with farmers
They're in so many towns and cities now.
Over the last three years, they've really grown in
Today we have over 7,000 markets nationwide, that's
7,000 opportunities for consumers to interact with
the people who produce their food.
One exciting element of our farmers market work
and a key focus for "Know Your Farmer", has been
bringing in new customers to farmers markets by
helping markets accept electronic nutrition
benefits, like our SNAP program.
Through "Know Your Farmer", we're better able to
coordinate our work on farmers markets and SNAP,
formerly known as food stamps.
Last year, that helped boost the number of
markets that accepted SNAP benefits by about 50%.
This means better access to healthy foods for
low income consumers and new customers for folks
selling at the market.
Now farmers markets are great.
They are just great community builders.
But we want to reach an even larger group and we need to
find ways to aggregate local food in greater
volumes than you typically find at a farmers market.
That's why food hubs are so important as
one way to do that.
This is a cooperative effort and a food hub in New Mexico
and it brings together the products of 900 local
producers, 900 producers
offering them cold storage space,
refrigerated trucks for pick-up and delivery, and
marketing services.
Very importantly,
they're employing 200 people and serving 17,000
co-op members.
And they've received support from USDA to
expand their business.
Another one of my favorite projects is "Farm to
For them it's really important.
There are so many benefits that students can learn
about agriculture, and farmers and ranchers, gaining
access to large institutional buyers.
It's really, really important.
It creates a real connection that we've
lost, since only 1%-2% of Americans now live on
a farm.
And we're supporting kitchen facilities in
school cafeterias, too, so they can put more local
food to use.
You can learn about this and all of these things
in the "Compass".
So there's a lot going on, Mr. Secretary!
And what's so exciting is that it is going on
across the nation.
As part of the "Compass", we created this mapping tool
to show where USDA investments are making
an impact.
This is the opening display of the map.
Your first option is to select the type of project
data you want to see.
The map allows you to display projects by
"theme", or by "type of recipient"
or by the USDA program which supported the
Let's look at the "recipient types".
I'll leave the box checked on that shows "seasonal high
Then click on the "Legend" tab to get a description
of what you are looking at.
Each type of recipient has a different colored pin.
Let's look at a region not too far from
us. Say, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Okay, we'll drag the map over there and
Now you can see a number of different
projects in this area, and the density of seasonal
high-tunnels in each zip code.
In this area, there are three high-tunnels that
have been supported by USDA.
Now I'm turning off the high-tunnels just to make
it easier to see the other projects.
Let's look at a project with a producer as the
The pop-up tells us about this project.
North Mountain Pastures farm received a
Value-Added Producer Grant to develop their business
for value-added meat products.
There's a link for more information as well.
You know this is really great and real easy to use
but how about one of the non-profit recipients,
down there by Lancaster?
Does the map show us anything about that?
You are trying to challenge me here,okay.
So this is a Rural Business Enterprise Grant
to a small-business incubator for prepared
local foods, the Lancaster County Career and
Technology Center.
So that's just a glimpse of the interactive map
feature and I hope people have fun with it.
There's also a Glossary page that gives you
details about all the data, and provides
spreadsheets with all the original data used in the
What all these efforts on the map have in
common is that they are creating economic
opportunities for farmers and ranchers and many of
them in rural communities.
That is what "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food"
and the "Compass" are all about. It's spurring job
growth, keeping more farmers on the land
and more wealth in rural communities.
So we want you to come online.
Browse the map.
Read the "Compass" narrative.
These are just a few of the photos and stories
we have to share.
And I hope that you look to see if there are resources
that might work for your business or your
Please join the conversation.
Speaking of conversation,
now we're excited to take a few questions about
the "Compass" from Twitter and about the
"Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" effort.
So the Twitter information should be on your screen
and I want to thank everybody for great questions.
We're going to start answering them and the Deputy is going to
read them and then she or I or both of us will try to answer
Okay the easy ones, I'll take them.
I'll send you the tough ones.
Fair enough.
Okay. The first one comes from Donna Johnson. She
asks, "How will the "Compass" benefit consumers and farmers?"
Well how about you take the consumers
and I'll take the farmers?
So for consumers if you are interested in local regional
food and you might be involved in a food policy council
in your community. You might be in the school PTA.
You going to learn about "Farm to School" efforts.
You are going to learn about where you can shop at a
farmer's market. You are going to find out
about what other communities may have that you don't
yet have and give you ideas to spur your local regional food
system efforts on. So I think for consumers it's going to be
great news.
Well farmers also will benefit. They will have a sense of where
the local markets are so they might be able to
figure out, well hey I didn't know there was a local
market just down the road from where I am.
I've got a little orchid and maybe I can generate a little
extra cash. Maybe my son or grandson or grand daughter
can also participate in that effort
and learn a little bit about the farming operation and the
finances of farming. They should also be able to
learn if they want to expand their operation if
they want to take advantage of these hoop houses
that we talked about earlier. They would be able to go
on the "Compass" and learn a little bit about success stories
as well as resources that USDA has to offer
and it's also an opportunity to see that you're not
necessarily doing something that hasn't been done before.
One of the great things that I like about the "Compass" is
it's got real life stories. It's got real people who
used these programs and used them successfully.
Let me just add one last thing to that Mr. Secretary.
We didn't pick the name the "Compass" out of
thin air. I mean really it is a navigational tool. We're trying
to show people direction. Where they can go, how they can
get to our resources and so it's going to be good for everybody.
So our next question comes from Grist. Most consumers spend
a great deal of time negotiating the decision between organic
and local foods and only a small percentage of what we eat
is both. Does the agency have any plan to address,
enhance or even formalize the area where local and
organic intersect?
That's a good question. I do know that some consumers are
a little bit paralyzed in the grocery store, wanting to
you know, hit every bell going. But what we know
is that the local regional food system is really
a very exciting avenue for young farmers. Many of whom are
interested in alternative production practices not
just organic and it's at a scale that you can go in as a
beginning farmer and not have to spend your family's fortune
if you are lucky enough to have it, to begin farming.
The average cost of a combine in this country is 250 grand.
So starting in the local regional food system
is really important for the next generation of farmers who we are
hoping to attract.
And having said that it doesn't necessarily preclude
production in agriculture from participating. It's for all
sizes and all types of agriculture and I think it's
really important for folks to also know that USDA
is engaged in this space making sure that when you actually
do purchase something, it says it's organic that actually means
something. We know that there's a value-added component to
that and we at USDA feel strongly about making sure that
there's a standard for organic actually put something behind
that value-added.
That's a very important priority for us. So our next question sir
comes from Ana Schweer from South Dakota. Will buying "local
food" be the norm in the future? Will it be more economical
or not?
Well that's an interesting question. I think it's going to,
from my perspective I think it's going to be a balance.
I think there are opportunities obviously in and out of
season to take advantage of grocery stores or farmer's
markets. One of the great things about "Know Your Farmer",
has been the effort to try to build the infrastructure
that will allow for farmer's markets year round.
And you see a different mix of activities and products being
sold at year round markets particularly in some of the
northern areas where the climates are pretty tough.
So I'm not sure that it necessarily would be the norm
but the great thing about it is that it would be a choice.
It would be the ability to, to celebrate the diversity
of American agriculture and the diversity of agriculture
and I think the other thing that is important about this is
that it really gets young people engaged and involved in this.
You can actually have a school garden, you can have a
community garden, you can have a small orchid in the back of
your farm and you can get young people engaged and involved
in this and they can learn real life valuable lessons about
farming, about the finances, about the risk associated with
this and to celebrate American agriculture.
Our next question is from Chuck Zimmerman
from Missouri. If I want to start a local food project
or business, what assistance is available from USDA and
how do I apply for it?
Well I think Chuck needs to get in touch with the local rural
development folks in Missouri and be able to explain to them
exactly what he is thinking about depending upon the nature
of the project and the size of the project. It may be a Rural
Enterprise Opportunity Grant. It may be a Value-Added
Producer Grant. It may be Farmer Market Promotion Grant or it
may even be a Business and Industry Loan which
may be a rather large operation that Chuck is thinking about.
A great thing about the "Compass"
is that it gives you access and identifies these programs
that are available and again gives you real life
situations and circumstances where people have taken full
advantage of this. So we encourage Chuck to take a look
at the "Compass" and from that the USDA.GOV website generally
has access to information about all of our rural development
Excellent. Next question from Mud Barron in California.
Mr. Secretary, how can the "Compass" motivate the
grower/garden community to donate garden supplies
to our 30,000 public schools?
Well we have the "Farm to School" Program which is really
designed to create a better connection between
what's being produced locally and what's consumed
by the youngsters. There's also an opportunity and encouragement
I think for the schools themselves to get into
this gardening effort. I've been and I know you have
too Kathleen to a number of schools where you
see excited young people getting there hands dirty, learning
a little bit about science, learning a little bit about
biology, learning a little bit about what can be grown
and then having the joy of consuming it in their
school lunch or school breakfast programs but you might
want to amplify on that question a little bit.
We're really excited about school garden and my
previous life before this when I was a college professor,
we found that children involved in garden based learning
actually were willing to try and actually consume more
fruits and vegetables.
So with that kind of connection with agriculture
that's important in so many different ways that we want to
facilitate. So I think "Farms to School" is great.
We will have a grant program that will be getting off the
ground this year which was part of the "Healthy Hunger Free
Kids" Act that our First Lady pushed so hard for. So that
is something for people to forward to.
Our next question, how do local foods compliment production
This is really an important question because
I think when "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" got
launched there was this belief that somehow it was
separate or distinct from production agriculture.
We have always thought that it compliments production
agriculture. That it actually makes a better connection
or increases the connection between consumers and
people that are distant from the farm and the reality is
that sadly, unfortunately so many people who live in America
today are generations removed from family members that
farmed and so they may not have a full appreciation or an
understanding of the challenges of farming. It's
probably the most difficult job I think in America.
When you go to a local farmer's market and you see the
pride in which these farmers and producers are displaying
whatever is they have grown, and they explain to you the
process by which they grow it or the risk and challenges they
have during a particular growing season. You just need to know
that you can have that conversation with
several hundred thousand people across America
every day and every year. They put their life on the line
and to put a crop in the ground to support their families and
their communities. So to me what this does is that it makes a
better, closer connection between farmers and the
rest of us and I think that is really important because we
don't appreciate our farmers as much as we should in this
country and I think this local food meeting is giving us
an opportunity to express greater appreciation
for what all farmers do.
One of the people that's quoted in the "Compass" document
associated with the Kentucky Proud Program which is the
state branding program, said those of us that are
doing the local regional food work we're ambassadors
for American agriculture and I really like that, that
resonated with me because it's putting that face on
farming that I think is so important for all our
constituents at USDA. Our next question, Does @USDA
have an estimate of how many family farms have been
supported through #KYF2, that's how people are tweeting about
this, through the KYF2 programs and how many jobs have
been created?
Well I will tell you sir, our census, the Ag Census which is
done every 5 years. The last one, the numbers we have
is 2008. At that time, we were asking questions about
direct sales and at that time our estimate was that 61,000
people were involved in the local regional.
Now in this census that is under way now, we've added a couple
of questions because we also wanted to figure out who
are the people that are involved in the intermediated
sale. So they are not just your act that you described in your
opening remarks. So we'll know more about that but we know
that this is creating jobs in the community and a lot of the
people are doing local regional are also doing value-added.
They have very diverse operations.
They may even do agritourism on the farm. There's a lot
going on so, do we have all the data we'd like?
No but we do have some good interesting trends.
Here are a couple of interesting points about this. Number one,
farm income overall, generally throughout the United States,
is at a record level. And we know that unemployment
rates are going down in rural America at a faster rate
then at any other place in the country. Now there are
many reasons for that. Production of agriculture,
exports, local outdoor recreation but the
local regional food system is also partially
responsible for that good news. So I think that there's no
question, there's a direct correlation between
job growth, income growth, and greater diversity and
greater selection for consumers.
Well we want to thank everybody those great questions
and we're unfortunately going to have to end this
session today.
But this is really just the beginning of our
We want you to comment on the USDA blog.
We want you to keep
the dialogue going through Twitter and in
your social networks using the #KYF2.
Did you think you'd really be talking like that?
No I wasn't sure if I got that right or not
but hopefully people will understand will get it right.
And let me just join in thanking you all for participating
and also inviting you to
join us on Twitter next Monday afternoon,
March 5th, at 2:30 Eastern
for a special conversation with some of
the people working around the country to build
strong regional food systems.
You said us, is that us or us,
a larger us?
In the Twitter world, sir.
Just want to know.
Thanks for joining us.