The Strengthening of Local Food Enterprise

With the recent announcement of the USDA’s commitment to a $78 million investment in local food systems many urban, peri-urban, and rural areas across the United States will feel the economic bolstering of opportunity in the complete industry of local food enterprises. This important pledge from the Federal Government only further solidifies the growing demand and attitudinal evolution we’re experiencing as a society when it comes to the value we place on our food.

To the nay-sayers: There are definite opportunities to form sustainable and profitable local enterprises in today’s marketplace. From food forests, food hubs, and farmers’ markets all the way down the supply chain to the distributors, the suppliers, and the sales and marketing support. A financial injection that promotes small to medium-sized business within a market that’s entirely health and socially oriented can only be considered a stepping stone towards a better future for those who are concerned about the business practices of the mainstream food producers.

The establishment of local food enterprises and marketplaces advances with it new innovation for agricultural research and development, opportunities for growing technology, and the demand for labor and a specialized workforce. Moreover, it gives consumers better options and allows them to take control of their health without feeling constrained by some injustices that the traditional industry has created.

Community Supported Agriculture is an important part of the local food system. Image via Frugivoremag.com

The Federal funding is now available to applicants of businesses or organizations that will:

1.       Provide employment;
2.       Improve the economic or environmental climate;
3.       Promote the conservation, development, and use of water for aquaculture; or
4.       Reduce reliance on non-renewable energy resources by encouraging the development and construction of solar energy systems and other renewable energy systems.

The funds may be used in the following manner:

1.       Business and industrial acquisitions when the loan will keep the business from closing, prevent the loss of employment   opportunities, or proivde expanded job opportunities.
2.       Business conversion, enlargement, repair, modernization, or development.
3.       Purchase and development of land, easements, rights-of-way, buildings, or facilities.
4.       Purchase of equipment, leasehold improvements, machinery, supplies, or inventory.

There’s optimism in seeing that the passing of the 2014 Farm Bill has brought with it the potential for real economic impact which will no doubt mean that ripples of better health and environmental practices will be felt in its wake.

What could this potentially mean for commercial hydroponic and soilless growing enterprises? For any of these organizations engaged directly with farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture, or any part of the local food distribution chain this could mean a slice of the pie. I guess the best way to find out is to apply, wait, and see! Applications will be accepted until June 20th, 2014.

With the increasing number of businesses entering this market it also makes one wonder if – given the broad spectrum eligibility for funding – it means not enough financial resources? Regardless of the investment’s total amount and reach, it’s definitely encouraging to see the incentivization of sustainable food production from a government standpoint.

Feature Image: Teresa Vanek and Brent Welch of Red Tail Farm in Jacksonville, N.Y. Photo by James Rajotte, New York Times.

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