The Department of Agriculture has announced a new effort aimed at connecting farmers with urban shoppers.  Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the demand for local food is growing to between 5 and 7 billion dollars every year and that could be an economic boon for farmers.  “We know that there are a number of opportunities that exist in urban centers to expand local food production and promotion,” Vilsack says.

Certain urban projects will now be eligible for a loan guarantee program that’s long been a part of the farm bill’s Rural Development title. Local food efforts in cities will be considered for funds through a guaranteed loan program, provided they directly benefit rural communities.  “If you’re going to be using U.S.D.A. resources, it has to have a connection, a financial and legitimate connection to rural areas and that is why there is the condition that there has to be some linkage to rural productions and producers,” he explains.

Vilsack says a food hub that connects city institutions to local food is one example. “So the business and industry loan program will clarify that these resources can now be used for an urban project, so long as it’s benefiting rural producers,” according to Vilsack. The $78 million in this year’s farm bill is the biggest ever federal boost to local food programs.