USDA unveils Urban Agriculture Toolkit for urban farmers
The toolkit is to help entrepreneurs and community leaders successfully create jobs and increase access to healthy food through urban agriculture.
From neighborhood gardens grown on repurposed lots, to innovative mobile markets and intensive hydroponic and aquaculture operations, urban food production is rapidly growing into a mature business sector in cities across the country.
"Urban agriculture helps strengthen the health and social fabric of communities while creating economic opportunities for farmers and neighborhoods," Vilsack said.
"USDA's Urban Agriculture Toolkit compiles guidance from our Know Your Farmer team and many private partners into one comprehensive resource to help small-scale producers manage all aspects of their business. From protecting soil health to marketing to schools and grocery store chains, USDA has tools to meet the needs of this new breed of innovative urban farmer and small business owner."
Industry estimates show U.S. local food sales totaled at least $12 billion in 2014, up from $5 billion in 2008, and experts anticipate that value to hit $20 billion by 2019. The numbers also show that these opportunities are helping to drive job growth in agriculture, increase entrepreneurship and expand food access and choice.
USDA's Toolkit is an electronic document that helps urban and small farms navigate more than 70 helpful resources, including technical assistance and financing opportunities.
It focuses on some of the most pressing challenges confronting urban producers such as land access, soil quality, water resources, capital and financing, infrastructure, market development, production strategies, and applying for federal, state or private foundation grants.
University extension service partners in Chicago and Indianapolis helped develop cost estimates for starting urban farms and the toolkit includes information on best practices and check lists for start-ups and early-stage producers planning outdoor or indoor operations.
Some of the USDA resources featured in the Toolkit include:
Natural Resources Conservation Service technical and financial assistance for drip irrigation and seasonal high tunnels to extend the growing season.
Farm Services Agency microloans that provide up to $50,000 in financing for equipment, working capital or other expenses.
Food and Nutrition Service assistance to help urban farmers become authorized to accept SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefit cards.
Agricultural Marketing Service Farmers Market Promotion Program grants that support direct-to-consumer marketing activities in cities, and Local Food Promotion Program grants that support food hubs, farm-to-retail, and related projects.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture's Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program support for field trials in urban settings and urban farm planning and marketing guides. ■