A visit to the White House Garden yesterday as an IATP Fellow was eclipsed for me by a speech from Deputy Undersecretary Kathleen Merrigan at the USDA. Yes, the sungold tomatoes are beautiful (and delicious, I might add), and yes, Sam Kass, the WH Chef, is doing great work feeding the First Family and inspiring others to turn their lawns into salad bars, but Merrigan is shaking things up.
Two weeks ago she sent out a local foods memo with the lead in, “Imagine an NGO receiving USDA grant money to construct a community kitchen where farmers drop off produce and families join cooking classes that teach about healthy eating while everyone prepares fresh nutritious meals to bring home…Imagine a community using USDA money to construct an open-sided structure to house a farmers market…Imagine a school using USDA loan money to set up cold storage as part of a larger effort to retrofit the school cafeteria to buy produce directly from farmers and return cooking capacity for school lunch…Imagine…
Sounds like something I would write. But more importantly, it equates to promoting 1.24 billion of existing funds available to grassroots groups to finance the community kitchens, farmers markets, and farm to school distribution networks. That’s not chump change.
Next week she launches Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, a new campaign by the USDA to emphasize the renaissance of American agriculture: vibrant local and regional food systems.
Each day has a different theme:
Monday: General launch with focus on Rural Revitalization (economic development)
Tuesday: Farm to Institution (farm to school, etc)
Wednesday: Healthy Eating (including a celebrity chef cooking at the USDA)
Thursday: Direct Markets (White House starts its own FM)
Friday: Ag is Back! Website launched with national conversation including a live facebook chat with Merrigan
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