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Vilsack, Merrigan to hold webinar on 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food'

Has the Obama administration managed to create lemonade out of a lemon of a report demanded by congressional Republicans who distrust the administration's “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiative?

Both Congress and the public should find out today when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan host a webinar to reveal an interactive web-based document on the initiative that they say will satisfy Republicans’ insistence for a report on the program.

They say it will also be a guide to the public on how the Obama administration is helping coordinate USDA resources to encourage local and regional food systems. The report shows that even though “USDA is a big agency, we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Merrigan said.

Vilsack and Merrigan will discuss what they call a “compass” to the initiative in a webinar to be streamed live at at 2 p.m. EST at www.usda.gov/live.

Participants may ask questions on Twitter to @usda and using the hash tag #KYF2.

The compass can be found at www.usda.gov/knowyourfarmer.
Kathleen Merrigan

Kathleen Merrigan
Merrigan told reporters in a briefing Monday that the compass will show that “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” creates jobs because the initiative has forced the 17 divisions of USDA to think about how they all help local agriculture.

Merrigan said the report will not contain new information, but will bring together previously released material showing, for example, that "for every $1 million in revenue from local food systems, 13 jobs are created, compared to 3 in a non-focused operation."

Merrigan also said, "This compass will show all members of Congress in every state that they have a piece of the rock, that they have local farmers, contributing to the economy."

One part of the site will be a narrative that describes what USDA has been doing over time, including case studies around several themes.

The other part is a geospatial mapping tool showing USDA investments in local and regional food projects across the entire department on one map

Merrigan said the map will make it possible to see which farmers’ markets are redeeming coupons from the special nutrition program for women infants and children known as WIC, what research investments the National Institute for Food and Agriculture have made in local agriculture, and where farmers have received “cost share” payments from the Natural Resources Conservation Program to build outdoor covers for winter vegetables.

Profiles of several farmers will also be featured, Merrigan said, while the webinar will include a young Virginia couple that has managed to buy a small farm while participating in Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food programs.

Merrigan said she believes the compass will be “really grand” because people from one state can see what “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” initiatives are taking place in other states.

Eighty-five percent of consumers consider whether a store sells local foods when they decide where to shop, Merrigan said. Local production, she added, “is a way farmers can make really good money.”

Merrigan said the compass — to distributed only electronically except for a few print copies that were delivered to Capitol Hill to comply with congressional reporting requirements —will be considered “a living document” that will be revised over time.

She noted that the site complies with a provision in the fiscal year 2012 Agriculture appropriations bill that USDA provide a report on “Know your Farmer, Know Your Food” within 90 days of the bill being signed.

Merrigan said the report requirement was a compromise. Republicans more attuned to conventional, larger scale industrial agriculture have questioned whether “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is a serious initiative. The House version of the appropriations bill contained language that would have restricted the initiative, while the Senate was silent on the issue.