KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Balls Food Stores' partnership with Good Natured Family Farms to source local food recently caught the attention of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan visited Kansas City last month to take a firsthand look at the system David Ball, president of Balls Food Stores/Hen House Market, and Diana Endicott, founder of Good Natured Family Farms, have developed and honed during the past decade.
The system — which Ball has shared with other supermarket retailers — has ensured that the 29-unit supermarket chain has access to an adequate and consistent variety of local and regional products.
During her day-long Dec. 15 visit here, Merrigan toured Good Natured Family Farms and its processing facilities, and spoke with Ball, Endicott and other entrepreneurs involved in sourcing and distributing local products.
“Ours was one of the models [Merrigan] wanted to see,” Endicott told SN. “The USDA is taking a new direction that involves the development of sources and distribution systems for local and regional products.”
Endicott said she learned that it's part of an effort to integrate small-scale farming into our country's larger agricultural system.
“Not to change the system, but to give us a place in it,” Endicott said. “But [USDA] policy will determine the food system we have in the future, and certainly Kathleen Merrigan's looking into our system is a positive step.
“The market right now for local and regional products is growing faster than retailers can keep up with it. It's significant what's going on with the Obama administration with Michelle Obama starting an organic garden and the White House chef's interest in local foods. This is going to be transcendent throughout the country.”
Under the leadership of Merrigan and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the USDA has been working to deepen the relationships between independent farmers and their local communities. For example, in September 2009, Vilsack and Merrigan announced the launch of “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food,” a $65 million initiative geared toward developing local and regional food systems.
“An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture,” said Vilsack when the program was announced. “Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families, and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food.”