Equally important to the viability of an operation is access to markets. We’ve made some changes in this area, too, with the goal of helping small and mid-sized farms and ranches find and break into new markets. Market News, which provides real time price, volume, supply and demand information, has expanded to include data on grass-fed beef and local foods—valuable to folks engaged in those marketplaces.
We’ve also hired seven new Farm to School regional coordinators to help farmers and ranchers tap into the growing potential in the school food market. In school year 2011-2012—before USDA had even established a formal Farm to School program—schools spent nearly $355 million on food grown by their local farmers and ranchers, and more than half of schools at the time planned to spend even more in the coming year.
Opportunities for small and mid-sized farms span the meal tray. Fruits and vegetables, fluid milk and baked goods are among the most popular, but schools are interested in increasing purchases of meat, poultry and eggs as well. Our coordinators are on the ground helping farmers and ranchers do business directly with school customers, a move that supports both healthy foods in schools and a healthy farm economy. Our work to support these and other local and regional food systems at USDA continues to be coordinated and strengthened through our Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative.
These changes are just a start. We must do more to foster and protect the wide diversity of thriving farms and ranches across rural America. We will continue to ensure that our programs and policies meet the evolving needs of American agriculture, and will adjust policies and strengthen outreach to better reach small and mid-sized farmers and ranchers. With you, we will build an agricultural landscape where there is room and opportunity for all.