(L to R: Dep. Sec. Kathleen Merrigan, Local Food Hub Director Marisa Vrooman, USDA Rural Development State Director Ellen Davis, and Local Food Hub Director Kate Collier pose with local pumpkins and one very pregnant belly!)
Back in early 2009, Kathleen Merrigan was appointed Deputy Secretary of the USDA, and sustainable agriculture advocates across the nation sighed. With relief. Championed as "ferocious," "battle-tested," and "a real reformer," Merrigan was even listed as one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People. Merrigan has already made great strides to support small producers and regional food systems, most notably with her brainchild, Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, a robust suite of programs, funds, and marketing campaigns designed to champion the local food movement.
With all that in mind, we were honored yesterday to welcome Deputy Secretary Merrigan, USDA Rural Development State Director Ellen Davis, and Senator Mark Warner’s Outreach Director, Drew Denmore to the Local Food Hub warehouse for a tour of our facilities and a lively conversation about local food and small family farms.
Over freshly-pressed apple cider from Morris Orchard, we told the story of Local Food Hub -- how we got started, how lucky we are to have a community of supporters right here in Charlottesville, and what we're doing to bring fresh local food from farm to table. Farmers Carl Tinder and Tim Henley shared their experiences and told how partnership with Local Food Hub has helped them connect with buyers and advance their business. Even our apprentices and interns got in on the discussion, explaining how their experience at our Educational Farm has impacted their interest in farming.
Probably the most surprising part of the visit was when, after she'd heard our stories, Merrigan asked, “So what should the USDA be doing?” How often does that happen!? Not surprisingly, everyone had a lot of suggestions! Kate suggested that assisting in the duplication of successful aggregation models could be a start. And Marisa added that helping small farmers with working capital needs could help established growers expand production and aspiring farmers get off to a good start.
By the end of the visit, it was clear that Deputy Secretary Merrigan truly understands the challenges that face small farmers, rural communities and local food systems, and we we feel confident that she is invested in overcoming these problems. Her fresh sensibility, hands-on approach, and creative outlook are incredible assets to the USDA, and we are lucky to have her on our side!
Thank you Dr. Merrigan, for a fantastic visit, and thank YOU Charlottesville, for being believers, movers and shakers in the local food realm!