USDA Announces New Support to Help Schools Purchase More Food from Local Farmers

By: Monique Bienvenue; Cal Ag Today Social Media Manager/Reporter 

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that more than $5 million in grants will be given to 82 projects that support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) efforts to connect school cafeterias with local farmers and ranchers through its Farm to School Program. The program helps schools purchase more food from local farmers and ranchers in their communities, expanding access to healthy local food for school children and supporting local economies.

According to USDA’s first-ever  Farm to School Census released earlier this year, school districts participating in farm to school programs purchased and served over $385 million in local food in school year 2011-2012, with more than half of participating schools planning to increase their purchases of local food in the future.

“USDA is proud to support communities across the country as they plan and implement innovative farm to school projects,” said Vilsack. “These inspiring collaborations provide students with healthy, fresh food, while supporting healthy local economies. Through farm to school projects, community partners are coming together to ensure a bright future for students, and for local farmers and ranchers.”

Secretary Vilsack made this announcement at Common Market, a pioneering food hub in Philadelphia that connects wholesale customers to farmers in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. Common Market is receiving a grant to support their “An Apple a Day” Program. The facility will act as a bridge between Pennsylvania Family Farms, a small Pennsylvania value-added processor, and public charter schools to provide food safety, product development, packaging, educational, marketing, planning, ordering and delivery support to farm and school food service partners.

Together, Common Market and the other selected projects will serve more than 4,800 schools and 2.8 million students, nearly 51 percent of whom live in rural communities.

USDA Modifies Farm Loan Programs to Give More Opportunity to Producers

Farm Loan Modifications Create Flexibility for Farmers and Ranchers

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack TODAY announced increased opportunity for producers as a result of the 2014 Farm Bill. A fact sheet outlining modifications to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm Service Agency (FSA) Farm Loan Programs is available here.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are the engine of the rural economy. These improvements to our Farm Loan Programs will help a new generation begin farming and grow existing farm operations,” said Secretary Vilsack. “Today’s announcement represents just one part of a series of investments the new Farm Bill makes in the next generation of agriculture, which is critical to economic growth in communities across the country.”

The Farm Bill expands lending opportunities for thousands of farmers and ranchers to begin and continue operations, including greater flexibility in determining eligibility, raising loan limits, and emphasizing beginning and socially disadvantaged producers.

Changes that will take effect immediately include:

  • Elimination of loan term limits for guaranteed operating loans.
  • Modification of the definition of beginning farmer, using the average farm size for the county as a qualifier instead of the median farm size.
  • Modification of the Joint Financing Direct Farm Ownership Interest Rate to 2 percent less than regular Direct Farm Ownership rate, with a floor of 2.5 percent. Previously, the rate was established at 5 percent.
  • Increase of the maximum loan amount for Direct Farm Ownership down payments from $225,000 to $300,000.
  • Elimination of rural residency requirement for Youth Loans, allowing urban youth to benefit.
  • Debt forgiveness on Youth Loans, which will not prevent borrowers from obtaining additional loans from the federal government.
  • Increase of the guarantee amount on Conservation Loans from 75 to 80 percent and 90 percent for socially disadvantaged borrowers and beginning farmers.
  • Microloans will not count toward loan term limits for veterans and beginning farmers.

Additional modifications must be implemented through the rulemaking processes. Visit the FSA Farm Bill website for detailed information and updates to farm loan programs.