Washington, D.C., February 11, 2009—“American Farmland Trust (AFT) is helping farmers and communities work together to meet the burgeoning demand for local food,” says Julia Freedgood, managing director of AFT’s Growing Local campaign. “We applaud Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack for bringing a new level of interest in local food to the USDA, and we support his premise that we don’t have adequate infrastructure or distribution capacity to support the demand for local food in the United States.”
Secretary Vilsack commented on local food issues in an interview published by The Washington Post today.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently released the
2007 Census of Agriculture. Freedgood says several items in the new Census indicate the opportunities for producers in the local foods area:
- The number of farms selling food directly to consumers is up 17 percent from the 2002 Census. This includes sales at roadside stands, farmers markets, pick-your- own operations, etc., but excludes non-edible products such as flowers, pumpkins, Christmas trees, nursery and other farm products. Thus, Census data undercounts the true economic value of this type of marketing to local communities.
- The new Census tracks farms—12,554—involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s).
- According to the Agricultural Marketing Service, the number of farmers markets in the United States continues to grow, reaching a total of 4,685 in August 2008. This represents a 49 percent increase from 2002.
Freedgood cautions, however, that the 2007 Census also contains some challenging news. The average age of farmers is now 57.1, up from 55.3 in 2002. Older operators (age 55 and up) manage the majority, 57 percent, of the nation’s farmland. Young farmers (age 34 and younger) now represent only 5.4 percent of the total number of principal operators and manage a tiny amount of land – only 4 percent.
“Without farms, there is no food. The Census showed a decrease of 16.2 million acres in farmland . While this does not mean those acres necessarily have been paved over, it does mean they have gone out of agriculture. Even if they have not been developed, they are at risk because they are not being farmed.”
“Land is most vulnerable when it passes from one generation to another, or when farms are not economically viable. Given this stark data, it is clear we need policies and programs to support the transfer of land to younger and beginning farmers. Direct to consumer marketing is a great way for beginning farmers to enter agricultural markets,” Freedgood adds.
AFT’s Growing Local campaign is working to promote farmland protection and smart growth strategies, along with improving the production and distribution capacity and infrastructure to support local foods. “It’s time to recognize that farmland is an integral part of the ‘green infrastructure’ and is a base requirement for a flourishing local food system,” Freedgood says.
“Across the country, there’s a lot of enthusiasm for buying locally and investing local resources to revitalize our communities.” Freedgood says. “It’s now time to establish a national agenda that can bring about the systemic change needed to ensure healthy farms, healthy food and healthy communities for America’s future.”
“Secretary Vilsack has made a fine start at USDA,” stated American Farmland Trust Board member and former Undersecretary of Farm and Foreign Agriculture Services, Gus Schumacher. “He’s taken early action to restore critical specialty crop funding, he’s started work to ensure a sustainable, safe nutritious food supply for all Americans—especially those vulnerable in these difficult times—and said it’s time for USDA to address the growing epidemic of children’s obesity and diabetes with improvements in our school lunch programs and supplemental feeding programs.”
Note to Editors: You can access additional information on the 2007 Census of Agriculture at www.usda.gov