When you think of the United States Department of Agriculture, more commonly known as the USDA, what comes to mind? Many people know them as the vague governmental organization that certifies red meat or offers statistics on food and nutrition in the United States. Historically, the USDA works with food production, agriculture, and natural resources to support America’s food systems.
However, their identity has developed and changed in the last few years, as their focus has turned to supporting rural businesses, manufacturers, and food producers throughout America. In a show of support for rural agricultural producers, last week the USDA Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced loans and grants from the USDA worth $18.1 million. These grants will support more than 85,000 rural businesses, including thousands of dollars allocated to food manufacturers and producers in Nebraska.
“I am proud of the work USDA has done to help small businesses grow in rural America because they are the engine that creates jobs,” Vilsack said in a statement. “These funds will allow small and emerging businesses and the organizations that support them to get the financing they need to strengthen their operations, create jobs, and expand economic opportunities.”
A quick glance at the funding records for USDA grants in Nebraska will confirm this: In May, the Blair Public Library Foundation received almost $5 million in USDA funds for a new library. In early July, the Board of Regents at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln received $71,363 from the USDA Rural Development Rural Energy for America program, in addition to $52,974 in other funding. The village of Prosser received $84,000 from the USDA for water treatment equipment, and other villages and communities throughout Nebraska have received similar funding either for water, quality of life for rural citizens, or to help local agricultural producers improve efficiency and reduce energy costs.
Since 2009, the Grand Island Independent reports that the USDA has invested in 617 local food projects in Nebraska, and provided over $10.9 million dollars to help rural manufacturers increase production and capacity. One way they have done so is by supporting the Nebraska Manufacturing Extension Partnership at UNL, a program focusing on helping agricultural producers reduce their energy consumption.
For those who are interested in learning more about how the USDA is working to support Nebraskan food production, we’d recommend taking them up on their invitation to attend the first conference of its kind in the Omaha area on August 14, 2015.
The “Local Foods for Local Tables” conference will be hosted by the USDA Nebraska Food and Agriculture Council and U.S. Congressman Brad Ashford at the Dining Hall of the Omaha Home for Boys. With keynote speakers from the Agricultural Marketing Service and Metro Community College, the conference will focus on local and urban foods initiatives in the Greater Omaha Area. It will also focus on technical, financial, and educational support services available through the USDA, especially for food producers, manufacturers, and distributors.
Pre-register for the conference by calling the USDA Farm Service Agency at 402.437.5581.