New and Improved NRCS Web Soil Survey

If you need details about the soils on your farm, look no further than the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Web Soil Survey. Using this online tool you can map out the soils on your land and learn important information to ensure crop nutrition, soil fertility and soil and water conservation activities. This tool is especially useful for beginning farmers and new farm occupants so that they can get a better sense of the land that they will farm.

NRCS recently announced the latest version of the web soil survey. The new version includes improved maps, increased Area of Interest acreage, and upgraded options for changing map properties. You can also access the survey online 24 hours a day.

Food hub roundup – a growing solution to direct markets

Direct markets are a growing way for farmers and consumers to interact, but they also support farmers by allowing them to set their own price for products. Even though farmers markets grew by over 250 percent in the past 15 years, many places called “food deserts” in the US still do not have access to fresh, healthy food from local farmers. Direct markets still only account for about .4 percent of all agricultural sales in the country.

Enter food hubs. Food hubs are a new and developing way for farmers to provide products directly to institutions, restaurants, grocers and countless other possibilities.  “Skyrocketing consumer demand for local and regional food is an economic opportunity for America’s farmers and ranchers,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “Food hubs facilitate access to these markets by offering critical aggregation, marketing, distribution and other services to farmers and ranchers.”

What is a food hub?

There are over 100 food hubs in the country today, each with a slightly different model. What all of these have in common is that each food hub helps farmers tap into new markets they may not have had access to in the past. The USDA created this definition for regional food hubs in the US:

“A regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail and institutional demand.”

There are three different markets that food hubs can serve: farm-to business, farm-to-consumer or a hybrid model.

A food hub benefits farmers, consumers and the local economy of the community it serves. So, where can farmers and consumers find food hubs? There are currently food hubs all over the country. Some of Farm Aid’s resource partners are making a big impact on direct markets as food hubs that work with small and mid-size farmers.

Red Tomato

Red Tomato is a non-profit organization located in Plainville, Massachusetts. The organization created this video, which asks the important question, “Why is it so difficult to find local produce in your grocery store?”

It is that dilemma that the organization works to solve by providing the logistical support farmers need to provide regional grocers with local produce on a wholesale scale. In doing so, Red Tomato works with farmers across the Northeast in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut. The organization also provides consulting to farmers looking to transition from direct markets to wholesale markets.

Appalachian Sustainable Development

Appalachian Sustainable Development is a food hub located in Abingdon, Virginia. The organization works with small and mid-size farmers to supply local farm-fresh food to over 600 supermarkets that carry the Appalachian Harvest brand. Through its Healthy Familes – Family Farms program, Appalachian Sustainable Development also provides produce to food banks in the area. The organization works with fruit and vegetable producers in the region to serve Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Ohio.

Ecotrust

Ecotrust works as a food hub across Oregon, Washington, California, Idaho, Montana and Alaska. The organization is based in Portland, Oregon.

Ecotrust knows no boundaries, working with a wide array of different buyers including: bakeries, buying clubs, caterers, colleges and universities, food banks, food service contractors, grocers, healthcare facilities, hotels, motels, resorts, B&Bs, packers and processors, personal chefs, restaurants, schools and specialty retailers. The organization goes beyond working with farmers to encompass other producers such as brewers, fishermen and distilleries.

This food hub even provides an online marketplace for producers and consumers similar to a website like Craigslist.com. In doing so, sellers and buyers can interact directly with each other.

For more information on food hubs, check out the Food Hub Resource Guide created by the USDA.

Farm to institution roundup

There are initiatives across the country to get farm-fresh food in all types of institutions. Schools, hospitals and corporate and government cafeterias are among the many institutions that create business opportunities for farmers.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a USDA program created to foster the local food movement. This Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food map shows the locations of all of the USDA-recognized Farm to Institution programs as of 2012. There are a growing number of farm to institution programs in the country, but here are some of the biggest:

Farm to School

The number of USDA-recognized farm to school organizations rose from about 400 to over 2,300 from 2004 to 2011. Farms must go through rigorous food safety screenings before working with food service directors at schools. Once a farm meets USDA food safety regulations to work in a farm to institution program, that farm is held to those initial safety standards. There are many resources available for farms looking to become involved in a farm to school program. For more information, visit: http://www.fns.usda.gov/farmtoschool/farm-school-resources#fs

Farm to college programs are also a growing effort in the country, both in dining halls and at special events on campus. The Oregon-based Community Food Security Coalition started a national farm to college program in 2004. CFSC helps schools and producers connect and overcome barriers associated with starting a farm to college program. The organization also compiled a database that lists all current farm to college programs in the US. For more information or for resources on beginning a farm to college program, visit: http://www.farmtocollege.org

Farm to school programs are not limited to outside producers, though, and also provide the opportunity for schools to begin gardens or other agricultural operations. This provides schools with fresh produce while also educating students about farming and the importance of healthy, local food.

Farm to Hospital

Farm to hospital programs are two-fold in that they deal with both the patient and the hospital staff. Many hospitals are beginning to serve locally grown, farm-fresh food to patients as meals and to visitors and staff in the cafeterias.

While patients come and go from the hospital, doctors recognize the importance of fresh food for a patient’s health. As a result, some doctors began prescribing fresh fruits and vegetables to their patients. This takes the idea of farm-fresh food out of the institution and into people’s homes, expanding local farmers’ direct marketing and providing healthier alternatives for people.

Wholesome Wave created the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx) to benefit overweight and obese children that are at risk of developing diabetes. The program is additionally designed to benefit family farmers through prescriptions that can be redeemed at local farmers markets. For more information visit: http://wholesomewave.org/fvrx/

“Given the increasing popularity of buying food products directly from local farmers,” the national Farm to School program explains, “as well as the heightened concern about human health and quality of food in hospitals, there has never been a better time to buy locally.” To find out more on the benefits of farm to hospital programs, click here to access the Farm to School guide: http://www.farmtoschool.org/files/publications_478.pdf

Farm to Business

There are also farm to business programs designed to help get farm fresh food into the workplace. Although restaurants most often utilize this, there are other businesses that work to get food from local farmers into company cafeterias or kitchens.

The Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project created a Farm to Business Trade Directory that offers tips for buyers and producers. The directory also includes a map that lists all farm to business programs in Western South Carolina and the Southern Appalachian Mountains. Check out the ASAP website for more information: http://www.buyappalachian.org/mixingbowl.

There are countless programs like the one ASAP created. Market Mobile is a Farm Fresh service that delivers food from family farmers to businesses in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The program is designed so the farmers can make their own prices and stretches beyond produce to encompass products such as local dairy, meat, seafood and granola.

Farm to Correctional Facilities

The recent demand for local food from family farmers even made its way into the correctional system. These programs can reduce an institution’s food costs while supporting local farmers and offering healthier meal options.

The national Farm to Cafeteria program surveyed the Montana State Prison and Montana Women’s Prison, both of which indicated the institution made an effort to purchase food from local vendors as often as possible. A representative of the Montana Women’s Prison cited the local cooperative as one of the most helpful resources for “locating and purchasing local foods.”

The Washington State Department of Agriculture recently partnered with the Washington State Department of Corrections to launch a farm to prison pilot program. Among other benefits, the program will determine if this project would successfully support local farmers through diversified markets. For more information on the new venture, visit: http://www.wafarmtoschool.org/Page/29/WSDA-Farm-to-Prison

Agricultural apprenticeship roundup

Beginning farmers account for approximately 10 percent of all US agricultural production, according to data collected from the USDA Census of Agriculture. Moreover, a beginning farmer operates about 20 percent of all farms. As such, there is an increased need for training and education opportunities for these farmers entering the field.

The Economic Research Service recently released a brief using data collected from 2011 with shocking results: only 25 percent of beginning farmers earn a positive margin of profit from farming. With the changing landscape of agriculture, beginning farmers are more important than ever. For this reason, it is crucial that beginning farmers are able to access the tools necessary to be successful. Many national organizations offer apprenticeships for those interested in farming.

Before beginning an apprenticeship, those interested in the opportunity should look into the Farm Internship Curriculum that Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (Western SARE) put together. This guide comprehensively describes the workweek of an individual farmer.

ATTRA – National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service

ATTRA has offered apprenticeships in sustainable and organic agriculture since 1989 in the US, Canada and the Caribbean. Potential apprentices can browse the farm and location possibilities for free. The listings are posted directly from farmers seeking apprentices or interns. For more information, visit: https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association

The Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association created the North American Biodynamic Apprenticeship Program (NABAP). This two-year on-farm program is designed for beginning biodynamic or organic farmers, in addition to one classroom course. Upon completing the program, apprentices receive a biodynamic farming certificate from the Biodynamic Association. Click here for more information: https://www.biodynamics.com/nabdap

CRAFT – The Collaborative Regional Alliance for Farmer Training

CRAFT is broken down by region, but each farmer-led branch is specifically designed to educate farmers through mentoring and a social network of support. CRAFT farmers are specialized in organic, sustainable or biodynamic practices in growing vegetables, livestock or grains. For more information on an apprenticeship with CRAFT, find your specific region here: http://www.craftfarmers.org

Beginning Farmers LLC

The Beginning Farmers LLC is dedicated to providing beginning and aspiring farmers with the resources and educational tools they need to succeed. As such, Beginning Farmers aggregates on-farm internship postings on its website. The Beginning Farmers’ blog announces internship postings, while its employment page collects information on regional resources with internship or apprenticeship opportunities, organizations with information on other jobs generally related to agriculture and links to international listings of agricultural jobs. For more information, visit: http://www.beginningfarmers.org/internship-and-employment-opportunities/