USDA Awards $34.3 Million to Support Communities’ Local Foods Infrastructure, Increase Access to Fruits and Vegetables
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack helped to kick off the nation’s harvest season by announcing nearly $35 million in new funding through four grant programs to support local and regional food systems, including farmers markets. Secretary Vilsack has named strengthening local food systems as one of the four pillars of USDA’s efforts to revitalize rural economies and communities. Purchases of locally produced food have surged to nearly $12 billion under Secretary Vilsack’s leadership while the number of farmers markets has exploded to more than 8,500 from 5,274 in 2009.
This announcement is part of a USDA-wide effort to support President Obama’s commitment to strengthening local and regional food systems. These grants are administered by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) and Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Under the current Administration, AMS and FNS have partnered to boost affordable access to local, fresh and healthy foods, which creates a gateway to opportunity for small and mid-size producers and benefits the health of all Americans, regardless of income levels.
“Today, USDA is helping to create economic opportunities for producers, increase access to fresh, healthy food for consumers, and connect rural and urban communities across the country,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Each of the grants announced today targets a unique part of the growing market for local foods. We are also expanding access for current SNAP participants to the wonderful array of fresh produce at America’s farmers markets, which is important to a healthy diet.”
USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is awarding $13.3 million in Farmers Market Promotion Program grants to 164 marketing and promotion projects involved with farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs), and other direct-to-consumer outlets for local food. Since 2009, this program has funded 902 projects totaling over $59.2 million to support direct marketing efforts for local food.
AMS is also awarding $11.9 million in Local Food Promotion Program grants to 160 marketing and promotion projects for intermediary local food enterprises such as food hubs, aggregation businesses, local food processors, and farm-to-institution activities. This program, begun in 2014, has funded 351 projects totaling $24.6 million to support local/regional supply chain activities including processing, aggregating, storing or distributing local and regional food.
And AMS is awarding $1 million in matching-grant funds through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program. These funds are awarded through State departments of agriculture and other agencies, as well as State colleges and universities. The matching funds will support 15 research projects to find solutions to challenges and opportunities in marketing, transporting, and distributing U.S. agricultural products domestically and internationally. Since 2009, this program has funded 142 projects totaling $8.6 million to explore new market opportunities for U.S. food and agricultural products.
Both the Farmers Market and the Local Food Promotion Programs were made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill. A description of the projects funded by each of these programs is available on the AMS website.
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Farmers Market Support Grants, which is awarding $8.1 million in grants for projects in 23 states to enhance the effectiveness of SNAP operations at farmers markets. The new funds support broad SNAP-related activities and costs, including staff training and technical assistance, creating educational materials, and raising awareness among current SNAP participants that their benefits may be used to purchase the healthy, fresh foods at these outlets. Farmers market organizations and associations, non-profit entities, state, local and tribal nations and other organizations engaged in farmers market management were eligible to apply. Grantees will be able to help connect low-income families with fresh, healthy, local food options by expanding SNAP use at these markets. From 2009 to 2014, SNAP redemptions at farmers markets have grown by 350 percent. A description of the projects funded is available on the FNS website.
Vilsack continued, “We will continue supporting local and regional food systems, which are drawing young people back to agriculture, generating jobs, and improving the quality of life in rural communities. Since 2009, we have seen a 75% growth in farmers markets nationwide and sales of local food rose to an estimated $12 billion in 2014, much of it through sales from farms to local grocers, institutions and restaurants.”
The local and regional food systems grant projects support the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2), which coordinates USDA’s support for local and regional food systems.
For more information, visit www.fns.usda.gov. — October 7, 2015 | USDA
Can Small Farmers Make a Profit at Farmers’ Markets?
The last decade has seen nothing short of a bonanza in farmers’ markets in America. Between 2007-2014, the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. has grown by nearly 180 percent, according to a January 2015 USDA report. That’s accompanied by a 288 percent growth in regional food hubs and 430 percent in farm-to-school programs.
But the data also show that while food hub sales continue to climb, sales at farmers’ markets may have peaked.
So can farmers, especially ones who operate on a small scale, make enough money at farmers’ markets to make it worth their while? Or is the proliferation of farmers’ market we’ve seen over the last decade coming to an end?
“It depends on the farmers’ market,” says Arthur Neal, deputy administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service Transportation and Marketing Program. “Every place is different. It depends on how well people are working together to make it successful.”
Getting to Profitability
The GrowNYC Greenmarket Program works with 240 producers and operates 54 farmers’ markets in the New York City area. Its director, Michael Hurwitz, says successful farmers’ markets do much more than just offer local foods. And market vendors must be good at many things beyond providing produce.
“Being in direct retail is a very difficult job. What you grow has to be interesting, and it has to look good,” says Hurwitz. “Farmers also have to manage logistics and provide good customer service. You need to be good at all of it. You have to be able to sell your product. Don’t let someone walk by your stand without saying ‘hello.’”
Hurwitz also encourages farmers to look at all of their selling options—not to limit themselves to farmers’ markets.
“Farmers’ markets are an important financial engine for farmers, but not an end-all,” he says. “It should not be either-or (farmers’ market or CSA). A CSA provides cash flow—choice is healthy.”
Neal has seen an increasing number of grocery stores promoting and cooperating with farmers’ markets in recent years.
“The goal is for farmers to expand and grow,” he says. “CSAs, food hubs, farmers markets—all are integral parts of meeting consumer demand for local foods. You can’t get everything at a farmers’ market.”
Ben Hartman, owner and operator of Clay Bottom Farm in Goshen, Indiana, says he wouldn’t sell at the Goshen Farmers’ Market if he didn’t make money at it. But not all farms will go the distance, he says. Hartman sees farmers’ markets as business incubators and proving grounds for farmers.
“Small startups can test out their product,” he says. “Some businesses are hits; others won’t take off. At the Goshen market, we see vendors come and go frequently.”
Hartman cites one of the most common ways for farmers to fall short of profitability: undervaluing their products. This can be a fatal mistake.
“For many beginning farmers, undervaluing what they sell puts them out of business,” he says. “It’s often a race to who can charge the least. It’s important that farmers charge fair prices—customers want to support farmers who sell local food, as this is a service they provide.”
‘Farmers Markets: Love at First Bite’: A 26-minute family documentary provides a glimpse into what makes farmers’ markets such a treat: they’re fun, they’re healthy and best of all they’re full of fresh, local produce from the people who grow the food. The film highlights one of the most successful markets in the country–the Davis (CA) Farmers’ Market. With food safety of growing concern, knowing and trusting the people who grow your food becomes critical to your health and the health of your family. Plus, shopping at farmers’ markets keeps the money circulating in the local food shed. Farmers are able to get full retail for their produce and consumers are able to support regional food systems–requirements for sustainability. But the biggest attraction for consumers and growers alike is the community aspect–the social aspect–of shopping and visiting farmers’ markets. Once a week, you can say hi to your neighbors and greet your friends.
Many factors come into play in determining profitability levels of farmers’ markets and their vendors. Some of these factors, according to Neal, include farmers’ abilities to engage customers, location (urban or rural) and demand, having the right product mix, the amount and quality of value-added offerings, and whether or not the market participates in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).
One of the easiest ways for a farmers’ market to boost profitability, according to Neal, is to accept credit and debit cards.
“Don’t be afraid of technology, don’t miss out on plastic. Embrace technology to be attractive for kids.”
In addition to the USDA national aggregate study mentioned above, it’s important to examine impact to the local economy. Because farmers’ markets keep money local, and because vendors can retain 100 percent of their profits, a local economic impact can be quite robust.
One such example is Audubon Park Community Market in Orlando, Florida. A 2013 economic study by marketumbrella.org calculated the economic benefit of the market for its vendors and nearby businesses, and found that the Audubon Park Community Market had an overall economic impact of $960,561, based on an economic multiplier effect that takes into account the value of direct-to-consumer sales.
Because farmers selling at this market were able to keep 100 percent of money earned (as opposed to 19 percent for farmers selling at grocery stores, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation), that economic benefit was drastically amplified. Even though the market’s 2013 gross receipts totaled $337,562.88, the overall economic benefit to market vendors was about double this amount based on the multiplier.
A Launchpad for Small Farmers
Heather Grove, community director of East End Market, also in Orlando, says that farmers’ markets offer high profitability potential for smaller farmers.
“For small farmers, they are the best place—they make double per pound what they would make elsewhere,” she says. “Without a farmers’ market, these businesses would never have a place to launch from.”
Grove also serves as program coordinator of Fleet Farming in Orlando, a coalition of “farmlettes” and community gardens that deliver food via bicycle.
“We (Fleet Farming) sell lettuce at East End Market, and we make double what we can make anywhere else in town,” she says.
But capitalizing on that opportunity means farmers’ markets need to compete with grocery stores, CSAs and the like to maintain that opportunity, according to Violet Stone, a small farms program coordinator at Cornell University. While Stone is is optimistic about the potential of the profitability of farmers’ markets, she says she often sees that potential go unrealized.
“In the beginning, small farmers were just so happy to get their dollar back,” she says. “But many times investments were never made to farmers’ markets, and, as a result, many of them have little infrastructure.”
Stone points to increased competition with other producers. She notes that grocery stores (which have restrooms and running water) have now incorporated many of the attractive aspects of farmers’ markets.
“Farmers’ markets are great for beginning farmers,” she says. “But they need more investment in infrastructure. I would like to see more farmers’ markets elevate the position of market manager to a paid, professional position.”
‘Farmers Markets Aren’t Enough’: Marcel Van Ooyen at TEDxManhattan: Marcel Van Ooyen is the Executive Director of GrowNYC and former Legislative Director for the New York City Council. Mr. Van Ooyen took leadership of GrowNYC in 2006. Over the last 10 years at Marcel’s initiating, GrowNYC has vastly expanded its efforts with new initiatives including: Fresh Food Box, Youthmarket Farm Stands, Learn It Grow It Eat It education program anchored in the South Bronx as well as NYC’s first all local food hub: Greenmarket Co. GrowNYC’s Food Stamp in the Farmers’ Market initiative is considered a National model, with $1,000,000 in EBT sales in 2013. By responding to a diverse community and ramping up efforts, affordable, healthy, fresh food is getting into the hands that need it most across the city. As Legislative Director for the City Council, he wrote and ensured the adoption of more than 30 environmental laws, including the city’s landmark green buildings legislation, lead bill, clean air codes, recycling requirements, environmental purchasing laws, and many more.
Focus on Farmers, Food and People
Certified farmers’ market consultant Oscar De León, who works with farmers’ markets in Riverside, Claremont and La Verne, California, thinks that as long as farmers’ markets showcase their main attraction—farmers—they will be successful.
“Some farmers’ markets don’t host farmers, but mostly food vendors and arts-and-crafts people,” De León says. “The key is that if you make farmers the main attraction, farmers’ markets will be profitable.”
But for Lisa David, market manager of the Orange Home Grown Farmers and Artisans Market in Orange, California, the main focus of a farmers’ market should not be financial profitability. Instead, she looks at the triple bottom line, which takes into account not only money but benefits to people and the environment.
“The core of what we’re doing is building community,” she says. “It’s an important tool to bring people together.”
Farmers who help do this will be profitable, she feels—but this is just a byproduct of deeper success.
It also helps when farmers’ market vendors offer something that grocery stores don’t.
“Some farmers can grow unique varieties,” says David. “They’re not just selling celery and carrots, but golden beets. Those farmers do well.” –by AJ Hughes, Seedstock.com, October 12 2015