It's not often the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) makes an announcement that doesn't make food activists grumble about Big Ag, sigh in frustration, or renew their locavore loyalties. But, every now and again, the Department does something right. This week, it announced it will be allocating funds to making food stamps at farmer's markets easier to use. Because we like to think hopefully here at TakePart, we rounded up five recent USDA actions that have made a positive impact on our country's food system.
Photo: bk Farmyards/ Creative Commons
Putting Cash Toward Specialty Crops
Since taking on childhood obesity as her FLOTUS cause of choice, Michelle Obama has talked up fruits and veggies as a silver bullet for the problem. Unfortunately, her husband's administration hasn't exactly matched her step for step, mostly allocating federal grant money to five main cash crops (soybeans, corn, wheat, cotton, and rice) instead of produce. In October of 2011, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan offered up some good news, saying the USDA will be investing in 55 blocks grants for specialty crops—fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops. The grants will fund 740 initiatives across the U.S. and its territories.
Photo: macinate/ Creative Commons
Giving Farmer's Market Info a Makeover
Putting design savvy folks to the task of making oft-drab information interesting, the USDA opened its National Farmer's Market Directory last year and let designers take a swing at presenting it better. The result: comprehensive farmer's market maps, apps to compare local markets, and crowdsourced food guides.
Making Food Stamps Easier to Use
Since 2008, food stamp spending at farmer's markets has increased 400 percent. Taking a cue from the trend, the USDA has announced it will be putting cash toward increasing the usability of food stamps at farmer's markets. The Department has requested a $4 million budget to extend its efforts, and will give the money to states with the greatest number of markets that don't accept currently accept food stamps. The states can spend the money on purchasing wireless food stamp card equipment, hiring people to manage food stamp programs at markets, or making other investments that will improve the process, reports Grist.
Photo: Creative Commons/ USDAgov
Reducing Barriers to Information
Want to know which state has the most fast food restaurants or the fewest grocery stores? With the USDA's Food Environment Atlas, released in January of 2011, that information is readily available. You can also find out a wealth of other info that impacts food-related health decisions, like food prices, grocery store proximity, and food assistance program details.
Supporting Small Farm Development
At the tail end of 2011 when, in most parts of the country, the ground was still frozen, Agriculture Deputy Secretary Merrigan announced winter farmers markets were thriving, up 38 percent from the previous year. The rise is due in part to help from the USDA, who financially assisted small farms eager to implement hoop house technology—clear plastic greenhouses that extend the growing season by trapping heat and creating a hospitable growing environment.