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USDA Grants Help the Local Food Movement Grow

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In case you think pickling is just another excuse to put Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in goofy wigs, think again. Along with products like jam, flour, and beef jerky, pickles count as "value-added" foods, and they're at the core of what it will take for the local food movement to mature beyond an easily parodied trend.

You see, without these higher-value, less perishable products, farmers and ranchers working at a small, sustainable scale and selling their products locally can rarely make a real living. In addition to the home food preservation trend, small businesses are also working to fill the gaps that exist between heavily processed, industrial foods and local produce - and the result is often minimally processed "value-added products." Such products allow farmers to extend their season, providing a way for locavore consumers to, say, eat peaches in February, and - perhaps more important - providing a product for farmers to sell long after peach season is gone.

Not that it's easy to expand a farm operation in that way. It takes seed funding, market testing, and food safety chops to grow your business. That's where - believe it or not - our government is trying to help.

On Friday, as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food effort, USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced the largest allotment of grants for value-added producers in recent history: nearly 300 grants across 44 states and Puerto Rico - to the tune of $44 million.


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