Department of Agriculture Under Secretary Edward Avalos visited Rhode Island last week, praising the state’s commitment to local agricultural production and consumption. At first glance, Rhode Island seems an unlikely place for agriculture officials to visit. Agriculture is a relatively small part of the Rhode Island economy, which primarily revolves around health services and tourism. Rhode Island has only 1,200 farms and ranks 49th in the United States in terms of agricultural production.
What makes Rhode Island a place of interest for USDA officials is its connection to local consumers. Rhode Island currently tops the nation with regard to the amount of farm products that reach locals. Over the last several years, the USDA has worked to revive the connection between local consumers and agricultural producers. Officials hope that national farm leaders can learn from Rhode Island’s example.
Part of the success of Rhode Island local agriculture is the state’s “Buy Local” campaign. The campaign seeks to inform consumers of local businesses, allowing them to avoid shopping at large, national chains. The program offers local businesses, including farmers, free advertising, the only requirements being that the business is located in Rhode Island, is owned primarily by Rhode Islanders, and permits local control over key business decisions.
Avalos met with Rhode Island governor Lincoln Chafee and commented to the Associated Press that he hopes the Rhode Island Buy Local campaign could serve as a model for how small farms and nurseries can revitalize local economies.
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