Monthly Archives: August 2016

USDA to purchase surplus cheese for food banks and needy families

cheese office of farm to fork

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced plans to purchase approximately 11 million pounds of cheese from private inventories to assist food banks and pantries across the nation, while reducing a cheese surplus that is at its highest level in 30 years. The purchase, valued at $20 million, will be provided to families in need across the country through USDA nutrition assistance programs, while assisting the stalled marketplace for dairy producers whose revenues have dropped 35 percent over the past two years.

“We understand that the nation’s dairy producers are experiencing challenges due to market conditions and that food banks continue to see strong demand for assistance,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “This commodity purchase is part of a robust, comprehensive safety net that will help reduce a cheese surplus that is at a 30-year high while, at the same time, moving a high-protein food to the tables of those most in need. USDA will continue to look for ways within its authorities to tackle food insecurity and provide for added stability in the marketplace.”

USDA received requests from Congress, the National Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau and the National Milk Producers Federation to make an immediate dairy purchase. Section 32 of the Agriculture Act of 1935 authorizes USDA to utilize fiscal year 2016 funds to purchase surplus food to benefit food banks and families in need through its nutrition assistance programs.

USDA also announced that it will extend the deadline for dairy producers to enroll in the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for Dairy to Dec. 16, 2016, from the previous deadline of Sept. 30. This voluntary dairy safety net program, established by the 2014 Farm Bill, provides financial assistance to participating dairy producers when the margin – the difference between the price of milk and feed costs – falls below the coverage level selected by the producer. A USDA web tool, available, allows dairy producers to calculate levels of coverage available from MPP based on price projections.

On Aug. 4, USDA announced approximately $11.2 million in financial assistance to U.S. dairy producers enrolled in MPP-Dairy, the largest payment since the program began in 2014.

While USDA projects dairy prices to increase throughout the rest of the year, many factors including low world market prices, increased milk supplies and inventories, and slower demand have contributed to the sluggish marketplace for dairy producers.

USDA will continue to monitor market conditions in the coming months and evaluate additional actions, if necessary, later this fall.

Link to full news release

Salinas Ag training program shares in USDA grant for new farmers and ranchers

Children exploring fields and crops

The USDA has announced a new investment of $17.8 million for 37 projects to help educate, mentor, and enhance the sustainability of the next generation of farmers, including $600,000 for the Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, or ALBA, in Salinas. ALBA generates opportunities for farm workers and limited-resource, aspiring farmers to grow and sell crops from two organic farms in Monterey County. CDFA produced a video about ALBA as part of its award-winning Growing California series.

The USDA investment is made through the agency’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP). Since 2009, USDA has invested more than $126 million into projects targeting new and beginning farmers and ranchers through BFRDP.

With the average age of the American farmer exceeding 58 years, the USDA (and CDFA) recognizes the need to bring more people into agriculture. Over the course of the Obama Administration, USDA has engaged its resources to provide greater support to the farmers of the future by improving access to land and capital; building new markets and market opportunities; extending new conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach, education, and technical support.

***Cross-post from Planting Seeds blog***

Mixer Helps Contra Costa Schools Put Local Farmers’ Produce on the Menu

Farmers and food service directors

Farmers and food service directors exchanging contact information.

Many school districts are interested in purchasing more local fruits and vegetables but lack the needed connections to make these changes. This past July the Bay Area nonprofit Fresh Approach brought together farmers and food service directors from eight districts in Contra Costa County for a face to face meeting to build relationships and facilitate purchases from local farms for school meals.

Buttercup Farms in Clayton, First Generation Farmers in Brentwood, Cipponeri Family Farms in Turlock, Swank Farms in Hollister, and a produce distributor from Davi’s Produce, attended the event and provided a little background on what they grow and the logistics of working with their businesses. Food service directors were able to ask specific questions regarding pricing, delivery, and availability.

Attendees took time in the morning for a tour of Pittsburg Unified School District’s new warehouse which will act as a food hub for the other districts. The space will allow for larger fresh produce purchases that can then be distributed to the other Contra Costa County school districts. The group’s collective purchasing is supported through a USDA Local Food Promotion Program Grant with guidance from the CDFA Office of Farm to Fork and the Center for Ecoliteracy. In addition to discussing regular purchases, farmers and school food service directors discussed the possibility of last minute menu changes based on crop availability.

The meeting allowed for farmers and school districts to discuss their respective challenges as well as areas for collaboration down the road. Both farmers and food service directors left with contact information and plans for fall fruit and vegetable purchases.

Celebrating the Fruits of Farmers Markets During National Farmers Market Week

Statistics and facts of farmer markets

Farmers Markets: Building Businesses & Helping Communities highlights results from the 2015 Farmers Market Managers Survey. The full report of the data will be released later this year.

Posted by Elanor Starmer, Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator

National Farmers Market Week is the perfect time to reflect on the evolution we’ve witnessed in our nation’s local and regional food systems, and to celebrate the results of the public and private partnerships that have made success possible.

The local food sector represents more than $12 billion dollars per year in sales, according to industry estimates.  That’s a lot of economic growth and opportunity for American producers and businesses.  And, in the newly-released results of the 2015 survey of nearly 1,400 farmers market managers, we are able to see the direct benefits these markets provide to businesses and communities across the country.

For farmers and food businesses, the survey conducted by my agency—USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—shows that 56 percent of markets were able to increase their product variety because of vendor recruitment and market growth.  Another 37 percent were able to contract directly with local restaurants to have their vendors supply fresh ingredients.

The survey results also illustrate the critical role that farmers markets serve for rural communities, with 17 percent of markets reporting that their farmers were able to increase their farm acreage due to participation in local markets, and 41 percent of markets reporting that the market enabled their local farmers to continue farming.

We also saw evidence that communities are benefiting directly from markets that combine vendors with hosted events.  In fact, 64 percent of markets hosting community events reported customer growth, with another 57 percent reporting increased customer retention.  Hosted events included a wide variety of educational and recreational activities—such as cooking classes, live music, gardening classes and children’s activities.

Markets that mature into a multi-faceted community resource perform better than markets that don’t—showing that a path to continued success is a blending of rural products and responding to community needs.

Local food is not a trend.  It’s not a fad hooked to a priority that will fade away.  Local food is bigger than any one individual, bigger than policy documents or informational campaigns.  It’s a vital part of our nation’s diverse food system, born out of consumer demand and driven by the universal connection we have to our community and the farmers and businesses owners who produce the food we eat.

Long-lasting connections are being forged between farms and consumers, and USDA and AMS are helping. In the last two years alone, USDA has made over 900 investments in local food infrastructure that connects farmers with local markets, including food hubs, warehouses, local processing facilities and distribution networks. Over the course of the Obama Administration, we’ve invested close to $1 billion in 40,000 local projects—from small loans of a few thousand dollars to local farmers, to multi-million dollar grants for infrastructure development.

We know that these investments will help farmers markets and local food systems continue to serve their communities. And this week, we get to celebrate everything that this support—coupled with community passion and private sector innovation—makes possible across the country. Happy National Farmers Market Week!

***Cross-post from USDA Blog***

Summer Meals: Giving Families the Support They Need

By Audrey Rowe, Administrator, Food and Nutrition Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture

Girls eating school lunch_USDA

When school is out during the summer months and children are no longer receiving breakfast and lunch at school, many families struggle to feed their children nutritious meals each and every day.

As a mother and grandmother, I understand the importance of ensuring that America’s children are provided with nutritious meals every day. My grandchildren, who are 5 and 8, are just like all children – infinitely curious and filled with energy, love, and joy. Young children should be playing and learning — not worried about where their next meal will come from. But for many children, school meals are their only source of nutrition, which is why USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are so important.

Summer Meals provide kids with the nutrition they need when school is out, and a safe haven where they can play and learn to keep their minds and bodies active during the summer months. The availability of these meals, which are served at no cost to children 18 and under, also reduces the financial burden on caretakers when school is out of session.

In the summer of 2015, nearly 191 million meals were served to children and teens at more than 66,000 sites across the country. With the help of our partners, we pulled off an amazing feat– roughly 3.8 million children and teens were served by the program. This summer we are striving to reach even more children in our quest to build stronger, healthier communities and ensure all kids have the opportunity to thrive when school returns in the fall.

Expanding access to Summer Meals is important across the country, but it is especially important in rural areas. Last summer, I visited multiple summer meals sites across the country.  I remember meeting one young man named Brian. Brian was only 12 years old and every day he rode his bike a long distance, along a busy highway just to get a summer meal. Brian would rush and finish his meal as quickly as possible in order to ride back home and give his sister the bike, so she could ride it to the same site and have a meal as well. This shows the lengths that kids will go in order to get a meal and an example of the need that is there. It is stories like Brian’s that highlight the need to continue to find innovative ways to serve children through efforts such as mobile meals and other strategies to reach families that may not have transportation to a site.

States across the country are creating projects to address these challenges in rural areas. For example, the Iola Unified School District in Southeast Kansas retrofitted an older bus and created a “traveling bistro.” The students built tables and book shelves, painted the walls, and turned half of the seats around to create restaurant-style booths. MARV, or the Meals and Reading Vehicle, will be traveling to three low-income neighborhoods to serve lunch on weekdays during the summer. Another innovative project comes from California where over the last three years; they’ve expanded access to summer meals through libraries. With many schools closed, it is difficult to find a central location that is safe and easily accessible during the summer months. However, thanks to the Lunch at the Library Initiative spearheaded by the California Summer Meal Coalition and the California Library Association, summer meal sites at libraries have grown from 20 to more than 125.

Since summer 2009, we’ve served more than 1.2 billion summer meals. We hope to continue this success as the numbers have grown steadily each year.  Our partners have done a tremendous job stepping up to the plate. Summer Meals programs would not be possible without churches, libraries, schools, non-profits, and other organizations making a commitment to the communities they serve.  I am pleased, both as the Administrator of the Food and Nutrition Service, as well as a grandmother of two beautiful children, that these programs are available for kids in need.

To find a summer meal site near you, please visit our Summer Meals Site Finder. For more information on USDA’s Summer Meals Programs please visit as well as our Summer Meals Toolkit.

***Cross-post from USDA Blog***

Natomas Summer Meal Celebration

Girl holding peachThe Office of Farm to Fork had a great time at the Natomas Unified School District’s Summer Meals Celebration on July 21st at the South Natomas Community Center.Boy holding peach

A free barbecue lunch was served to the over 1,300 people in attendance, including a black bean veggie burger and kale salad. The event was to promote the district’s summer feeding program and to spotlight childhood hunger and the role that local foods can play in addressing it.

The Office’s website, the California Farmer Marketplace helped Natomas Director of Nutrition Services, Vince Caguin, connect with local farmers and enabled the purchase of California grown produce for the event. The website offers an online space for farmers to post products and connect directly with school food service directors across the state. Some of the local produce purchased by the district for the event was used for the Office’s fruit and veggie photo booth. Anyone who wanted to take a photo with their favorite piece of summer produce was welcomed to pose with a summer veggie or choose between a slice of watermelon or ripe peach to snack on while having their picture taken.

Jesus Mendoza enjoying a bite of fruit

Jesus Mendoza enjoying a bite of fresh summer fruit.

The Summer Meals Celebration brought out Jesus Mendoza, the USDA Western Regional Administrator, and Audrey Rowe, Administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), as an honored guest. Rowe helped spearhead the creation of the national summer feeding program and led the effort to pass the nation’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Rowe lauded the district’s summer meals program and stressed the importance of students eating nutritious foods all year long, even while schools are closed.

Audrey Rowe showing off one of her favorite summer vegetables

Audrey Rowe taking a moment to show off one of her favorite summer vegetables.

The Summer Meals Celebration showed the large amount of support for both childhood nutrition and the local farming communities. Natomas Unified hopes to continue the tradition in the coming years.