United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visited Portland State last Thursday with a presentation on what the USDA is doing to strengthen the relationship between farmers and consumers.
United States Department of Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan visited Portland State last Thursday with a presentation on what the USDA is doing to strengthen the relationship between farmers and consumers. The “Know your farmer, know your food” tour is a yearlong travel venture designed to give information on sustainable agriculture in the U.S.
Merrigan began the lecture by discussing the problems that our generation will face in the future: population growth coupled by a scarcity of resources. According to Merrigan, less than 2 percent of Americans farm.
As sustainable green practices span across industry, Merrigan believes that environmentalism doesn’t have to be at odds with production. There is a greater demand for food distribution these days, she said. The number of peopled fed by one American farmer in 1955 was 25, whereas today it is 155.
She also outlined the economic breakdown of what percentage of money farmers receive from their crops. For every dollar you spend, the farmer gets 19 cents.
The rest of that dollar, Merrigan said, goes mostly to distribution. For this reason, Americans should buy local; more money goes to the farmer and more money stays within the community.
If purchased locally, according to Merrigan, 73 cents of every dollar spent would stay within the community; if not purchased locally, only 43 cents would remain.
“All over the nation, we see efforts to promote local food and local farmers,” she said. “Walmart and Whole Foods all work to buy locally.”
This effort has also led to an explosion in farmers markets, a culture that has tripled in the last 15 years.
However, Merrigan also said that farming feels like a lost American industry. In addition, many farmers are aging. This loss, among other factors, has led to some shocking statistics from the USDA. According to Merrigan, 74 percent of the USDA’s budget goes to nutrition assistance, or food stamps, and 18 percent of kids don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
Merrigan sees the paradox: How can a nation with a high obesity rate also have such a high rate for hunger?
“Obesity and hunger stem from the same problem: lack of healthy foods,” she said. “23 million [Americans] live in ‘food deserts’ where there is no access to good food.”
“Food deserts” is a term used by the USDA to describe regions in which families live further than one mile from a grocery store and do not have a car.
Merrigan, who grew up in a rural community, also worked with the Clinton administration on these issues. Now she spearheads the “Know your farmer, know your food” initiative across the country. They are fostering new opportunities for farmers and ranchers, leading a national conversation and building on existing programs, she said.
One such project is the creation of “food hubs,” she said. This program serves as an “e-harmony” site for farmers. This program allows consumers to search for products online and communicate directly with the farmer. ?