In an unprecedented convening of eight governmental agencies, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a networking event titled “Local Food and Rural Arizona: USDA and You” on Tuesday at Orangewood Church in northwest Phoenix. The event aimed to connect government programs and resources to local food production projects, sustainable agriculture initiative and rural community development programs in the state of Arizona.
As a part of the USDA’s targeted Strikeforce and Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiatives, the networking event provided a unique opportunity for a diverse audience of potential recipients of USDA grants, development assistance and other resources. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is the UDSA’s effort to help communities increase the impact of their local and regional food systems, in turn helping to strengthen local economies. Lisa Pino, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the USDA and a key organizer of the event, welcomed guests and USDA staff, and urged everyone to get to know each other in order to “create positive change in our communities for generations to come.”
The event welcomed over 130 guests form around the state, consisting of farmers, food producers, ranchers, gardeners, farmer’s market managers, fresh food app developers, food retailers, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies. Each had unique needs for their communities and were interested in understanding the processes and guidelines of USDA programs and resources that serve local food production, promote sustainable agriculture, and strengthen rural communities. Local First Arizona members in attendance were Maya’s Farm, gardenfly, St. Mary’s Food Bank, Edible Phoenix, Gila Farm Cooperative and Chow Locally along with representatives from the Arizona Department of Education, the University of Arizona, Tohono O’odham Community Action and the Navajo Nation. "This event reflects USDA's commitment to strengthening local and regional food production and empowering rural communities by working together with local growers, producers, retailers, and community leaders further dedicated to making healthy, fresh food more accessible and to making agriculture more vibrant in Arizona," said Kimber Lanning, Executive Director of Local First Arizona.
Participating USDA agencies included Rural Development, the Farm Service Agency, Food and Nutrition Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Agriculture Marketing Service, Food Safety and Inspection Service, Risk Management Agency and the Office of Civil Rights. All agencies took part in breakout sessions focused on:
• Food Production • Food Marketing and Distribution • Food Safety, Food Security, Nutrition and Health • Rural Housing, Community and Economic Development
Attendees were able to ask specific questions pertaining to their respective projects and initiatives and information on all the programs were in abundance. There was clear understanding happening; having the representatives of each agency explaining the parameters of their programs seemed to put many attendees at ease about the extensive reporting that USDA funding requires. “It’s a good beginning, for sure,” commented Maya Dailey of Maya’s Organic Farm. Maya has worked closely with a few of the USDA Agencies in attendance at the event and mentioned she had experienced some difficulty navigating the system. “The fact that everyone is coming together to try to simplify things is a big deal. It’s great to see these agencies start to understand why we need to support small farmers.”
Interested in learning more about USDA Programs for assistance?
For a complete list of over two dozen programs at USDA that can help build local and regional food systems, visit the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website.