An article in the Business Section of today’s NYT caught my eye: “USDA to Start Program to Support Local and Organic Farming.” It reports that the federal wing of all-things farming announced that it plans to spend $52 million to “support local and regional food systems like farmers’ markets and food hubs, and to spur research on organic farming,”— $30 million of which is going to go toward the tree-falling-in-the-woods issue of marketing farmers markets that work with small-scale producers. According to the article (and, well, the ability to add 1 + 1) most produce distribution centers deal with large-scale farmers, leaving the little guys in an ever-difficult struggle to find consumers for their crops. Farmers markets (which, according to the story, have grown 76% over the last six years alone) are often the key way that many small rural farmers get their food to the mini-masses, which often include roving chefs, happy to highlight on their menus the provenance of what’s on the plate.
The FDA lists farmers markets around the country on their website, but while that’s all well and good, it’s not exactly done well. For starters, most people don’t know it exists; most people probably don’t think about the fact that the FDA even has a website. And if you did happen to have that thought and went to the USDA’s website to find this list, you’d be left scratching your head and click-clicking around — it ain’t easy to find. A Google search leads to you to it more quickly, and while it does seem to have a good handle on markets that exist and provides a hyper link to the main website that runs the market, other categories like payments accepted, address of the market, et al., are woefully missing. (And not for nuthin: The print is tiiiiiiiny and not so very user-friendly.)
Reading this story today reminded me of one that appeared this past spring by the wonderful Amy Cortese on a really innovative online source called FarmersWeb, which, as Cortese writes, is “a sort of virtual Hunts Point for everything from chicken to cherries to cheese, connecting 400 city buyers to dozens of local farms.” And of other grassroots endeavors (like my funky little meat CSA in Staten Island that hooks me up with a monthly supply of organic, pasture-raised, really great myriad meats from Herondale Farms in the Hudson Valley — shout out!). Clearly, there’s a lot more that needs to be done, though — for farmers, for the improved eating habits and health of consumers, and for the health of our land in general. Hopefully, this particular addition from last February’s Farm Bill is good start.