Federal government wants farmers to supply local markets | PostIndependent.com

Federal government wants farmers to supply local markets

PUEBLO, Colo. — The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has been chosen for a federal pilot program that puts farmers in contact with markets close to home to meet the growing demand for food grown locally and to encourage more people to become farmers.

The program gets $850,000 in federal funds that are added to $2 million in private contributions to hire regional coordinators. The program launched by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is called Leveraging Investment for Network Coordination.

“It’s a $12 billion industry that will grow to $20 billion over the next few years,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack told The Pueblo Chieftain in an interview (http://tinyurl.com/zgu8xz3). “There’s a growing demand for local food. We’re helping to empower more young farmers or veterans who are returning and going into farming.”

Officials say southern Colorado was chosen because there are already three different food providers in the area. “You’ve got specialty crops, minority producers and farmers cooperatives,” Vilsack said.

Under the program, coordinators will try to connect farmers with farmer’s markets, restaurants, grocery stores and schools to focus on local foods and the benefits to farmers.

The USDA also will provide loans, technical assistance and management tools to help those farmers.

There is also a program to develop a business network among 16 food hubs throughout Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming.