The Department of Agriculture takes action to diversify our food system.
January 3, 2010
It is safe to say the USDA has joined the local food movement and has quickly become a leader. Maybe it makes sense to a layman that the USDA is supporting small-scale and regional farmers, but it is incredibly progressive. Since the Green Revolution, the word has been to subsidize commodity crops and encourage expansion in the name of cheap food. As a byproduct of that, small farms have been eaten up and farmers driven out of the business. Well, not any more. With the launch of USDA’s $65 mil Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative and the planting of a garden in front of the White House, a strong message has touched the American people. The USDA is ready for change.
There is no reason for the USDA to scrutinize the farmers that are, unfortunately, producing most of the nation’s food. Instead, the USDA must work to give more opportunities to small farmers and to boost local food economies. Saying “big, monoculture, agrochemical guzzling farms cannot feed the country any longer” would simply pit Green Revolution farmers against the USDA and be entirely counterproductive. Nevertheless, that is what the USDA is saying. With programs to help people and farmers appreciate local foods, the USDA is taking action to diversify our food system.
The High Tunnel Project is a super initiative for several reasons. First, the USDA is getting the ball rolling on sustainable ag research and letting it be known. Second, high tunnels or hoop houses prolong the season, can increase yields and decrease the need for pesticides, aspects of production which are especially difficult for small-scale and organic farmers. Third, and maybe best of all, the USDA is leading by example. You can tell a farmer what will keep the pests away, but if he/she is unwilling or unable to take the risk and make a change, it doesn’t matter. The White House garden is the guinea pig. With the garden trying out the hoop houses, farmers across the nation know that the department of agriculture is behind them.
Leading by example is important to those who manage the White House Garden. Take a look at The White House Blog post by Sam Kess, assistant chef and Food Initiative Coordinator at the White House. The crew at the White House has planted spinach, lettuce, carrots, mustard greens, chard and cabbage for the winter.
If the USDA keeps this up and continues to fund projects that help expand regional, sustainable agriculture, their Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food campaign will be hugely successful. It will begin to be a little easier for new farmers to start up, it will make regional food more accessible, visible and dare I say, normal. Planting the garden was a huge message that other families can do the same and that fresh, very local veggies are important and delicious. Maintaining the garden in a sustainable way is a message that the USDA is committed to the sustainable agriculture movement.
From the press release: “There is great potential for high tunnels to expand the availability of healthy, locally grown crops – a win for producers and consumers,” Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan said. The high tunnel project is a 3 year study taking place in 38 states to determine if hoop houses are effective in reducing pesticide use, keeping vital nutrients in the soil, extending the growing season, increasing yields, and providing other benefits to growers. Made of ribs of plastic or metal pipe covered with a layer of plastic sheeting, high tunnels are easy to build, maintain and move. High tunnels are used year-round in parts of the country, providing steady incomes to farmers – a significant advantage to owners of small farms, limited-resource farmers and organic producers.