Thursday, April 05, 2012

USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass

USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website consolidates information from a wide variety of less-well-known programs that support farmers' markets and other local food infrastructure, facilitate local meat and poultry, promote local food sales to institutions such as schools and hospitals, and more.

Rather than duplicate existing work with yet another layer of program authority, the website compiles information from a breadth of USDA agencies with their own separate budgets and chains of command.  This simple inexpensive effort makes a powerful impression, articulating a sense of shared purpose for what might otherwise seem like a scattershot collection of tiny stand-alone projects. For a Department that sometimes suffers from accusations of serving only large-scale industrial farmers, the Know Your Farmer program humanizes a large bureaucracy and generates an outsized improvement in public reputation.

For an alternative view, the coverage at Forbes seems to complain simultaneously that the Know Your Farmer program is underfunded and covers the same topics as existing programs.  With a churlish spin, Forbes shares the same facts I just described above.

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Merrigan this year launched the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass, with a link-heavy report and an interactive map, publicizing all sorts of local food activities supported by USDA.  Because U.S. agricultural politics are local politics, the simple act of collecting small program data points by geography has a big communication impact.

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