Innovation of the Week: USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass

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By Marlena White

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass in February to showcase the activities and achievements of its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative (KYF2). The KYF2 Compass is an online multimedia tool designed to help consumers, farmers, ranchers, and communities navigate the many relevant USDA-supported local food projects, and to learn more about local and regional food systems.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass informs consumers about USDA-supported local and regional food projects. (Image credit: USDA)

Both the KYF2 Initiative and Compass are responses to the rapid growth of local and regional food systems in the United States. Rising consumer demand for locally produced foods, an increase in direct sales from farmers to consumers, and a growing number of beginning and young farmers has all contributed to their expansion. There is, however, still a substantial need for support to increase these food systems’ capacity and viability, including improved infrastructure, farmers’ access to markets and credit, and technical assistance. To address these issues, the USDA has increased its number of programs and resources for local food-related initiatives.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative was launched in 2009 to better maintain and coordinate these activities. The newly launched KYF2 Compass catalogues these efforts, making them more accessible to the public. The Compass contains informational sections on topics relating to local and regional food systems—like healthy food access and local food infrastructure—and aims to increase the understanding of local food systems among farmers, consumers, and communities. Each of these sections is interactive and contains relevant information, resources, videos, and case studies. Other features of the KYF2 Compass include lessons learned and next steps and a resources page listing relevant USDA programs. There is also an interactive map of the 50 states charting USDA-supported local and regional food activities.

The Compass discusses the benefits of USDA-supported local food projects for communities, including local economic development, job creation, and land stewardship. These discussions give insight on how to bring these benefits to new communities. For example, the section titled “Farm to Institution Initiatives” identifies programs supporting farm to institution efforts and directs readers to relevant policies and practices. It also maps out where to find current farm to institution projects across the United States. This collection of resources may be helpful to farmers, communities, and organizations hoping to become engaged in a farm to institution project or program.

Other sections contain similar resources intended to increase the understanding of and participation in local and regional food systems. Summing up the KYF2 Compass during a video introduction to the tool, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack explained, “It’s a jumping off point, so you can join the national conversation about where our food comes from.”

Do you have other ideas about how to connect farmers, consumers, and communities to local food projects? Comment below!

Marlena White is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet Project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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