Local demand can outlive Know Your Farmer - The Packer

Local demand can outlive Know Your Farmer

03/09/2012 08:44:00 AM
Tom Karst

Another member defended the initiative and observed the Know Your Farmer initiative coordinates efforts between agencies but costs little money on its own.

Yet another commenter aptly said the real question should be whether “Know your Farmer” program would survive if Kathleen Merrigan leaves USDA.

Indeed, the USDA’s enthusiasm for local food issues appears to be driven by Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Merrigan, the one-time organic and alternative agriculture activist.

If Merrigan leaves the Administration or if the GOP wins the White House, the Know Your Farmer initiative and internal agency efforts will lose steam.

In about three years, the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative might be looked back on as a short-lived exercise in food system engineering by progressive-minded political appointees at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

An example of Republican thinking on the issue is found in Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. 

Roberts questioned Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack at a March 7 committee hearing whether 27 programs involved with the Know Your Farmer initiative are necessary for one of the fastest growing sectors in agriculture. 

Roberts pointed out that every U.S. agricultural product sold, whether it winds up in China or Chicago, has a local effect.

“Sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in southeast Kansas at a local farmers market on a hot summer day makes the most sense, and sometimes purchasing a tomato grown in Florida at the local grocery store during the cold winter months makes the most sense,” Roberts said in an opening statement. 

“Regardless of the season, consumers continue to demand more local products, and many business and markets are meeting producer demand without the need for taxpayer support.”

Noting local food is about 2% of the agricultural economy, Roberts asked Vilsack, “Shouldn’t we streamline and focus on programs that give the most bang for the taxpayer buck?”

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