Editor’s Note: The United Nations has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. The Ohio Farmers Union blog is highlighting this through a series of articles in 2014 focusing on particular aspects of independent, family agriculture.
This month of October highlights two important aspects of family agriculture that are older ideas that are growing once again here in the U.S. through the many family farmers fueling the local food movement.
October is Cooperative Month and also Farm to School Month. Luckily, we still have many members still active in the Ohio Farmers Union who are old enough to remember when a great deal of our food came from the region in which we live. So called, “farm to school” wouldn’t have needed a boost in the early or mid twentieth century before technological advances in agriculture and transportation allowed for the consolidation of much of the business of growing and distributing what goes on our plates.
The same might be said for cooperatives. When I talk with farmers about the changes in farming over the years, it’s apparent that local and regional cooperatives ruled. In decades past, it was more likely that a grain farmer actually had what amounted to an equity stake in their local elevator if it was owned partially or wholly by local producers. Now, most elevator operations are not independent and tied to one of the huge agribusiness giants.
As family farmers get short shrift in the forest of tall trees that is increasingly the domain of the vertically integrated and multi-national corporations, cooperatives are gaining favor again and your kids’ or grandkids’ chances of eating locally grown food in their school cafeteria is increasing.
Through USDA Rural Development, there are now seven major programs that offer grants to public institutions and farmers themselves to help build and promote cooperative marketing programs. Your local farmers market may have even been helped off the ground with a bit of grant funding from the USDA or another group.
Farm to school has two components and is another USDA priority thanks to the local food movement and consumer and farmer interest in more sustainable agriculture. First, is getting more fresh, local food into school cafeterias. Second is to expose school kids to agriculture through gardening, farm visits and culinary classes. OFU has a member, Debra Eschmeyer, who is a nationally recognized expert in farm to school programs and the co-founder of Food Corps.