USDA Promotes Sustainable Agriculture

U.S. Department of Agriculture officials are stepping up their efforts to expand local sustainable agricultural practices by offering farm grants and farm loans to qualifying farmers. The move to increase local production and local consumption has been an ongoing USDA effort. One of the more recent USDA initiatives was the Know Your Farmer Know Your Food program, which seeks to encourage consumers to buy local produce. More traditional tactics, such as expanding access to farm loans and federal grants, have also been widely employed by the USDA.
The most recent push by the USDA is the announcement by Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Agriculture Secretary, of $40 million worth of farm grants and low-interest farm loans. In announcing the grants, Merrigan linked expanded local food production with job growth, stating, “These projects will provide financial returns and help create jobs for agricultural producers, businesses and families across the country. This funding will promote small business expansion and entrepreneurship opportunities.” Farm loans and grants have already been distributed to farms across the country, helping farmers market organic produce, expand their customer base, and increase production.
Available to independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and producer-based business ventures, the grants and farm loans come with few strings attached. In the words of the USDA’s Rural Development Director, “We gave them a grant so they could try and figure out what was the best path for them to take to be successful.”
Funding is not limited to traditional farms. In efforts to expand local production, USDA farm loans and agricultural grants are available to urban farmers. Urban farming, the newest agricultural fad to sweep major U.S. cities, takes abandoned urban land and transforms it into small agricultural plots. Urban farming has helped transform food deserts, offering nutrient deprived urban residents access to nutritious, local produce. Farm loans and USDA grants have helped launch urban farms in cities across the country. These local businesses not only help feed undeserved urban areas, but can also help boost struggling local economies. In Chicago, for example, over 600 youths have been employed in the city’s urban gardens.