USDA Press Release: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Merrigan Highlights Efforts to Grow Local and Regional Agriculture in New Hampshire and VermontKeene, N.H., September 11, 2012 –Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan today highlighted how the Obama Administration is working to promote local and regional food systems across the country to create additional economic opportunities for farmers, expand healthy food access and meet growing customer demand. In a visit to New Hampshire and Vermont, Merrigan toured local businesses and farms that are promoting job creation and expanding local food systems. "USDA works every day to strengthen American agriculture, drive job creation and support farm families," said Merrigan. "We continue to work with our partners in states like New Hampshire and Vermont to address the changing needs of agriculture and to expand economic opportunities for folks in rural America. Many farmers, ranchers and businesses are getting involved in local and regional food systems as these additional market opportunities mean new jobs for agriculture and throughout the regional economy in the processing, distribution, retail sectors." Merrigan toured the Brattleboro Food Co-op in Vermont, which has grown from a tiny warehouse storefront in 1979 into a $17 million operation supporting 109 high-quality jobs today. In 2010, the Co-op secured a USDA Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan to expand into a larger space and offer additional retail capacity for the 146 local farmers and 46 local food producers who sell there. Merrigan had the opportunity to view the progress of the construction that was in process when she visited last September following Tropical Storm Irene. While in New Hampshire, the Deputy Secretary toured Alyson's Farm, the Walpole Valley Farm and the Stonewall Farm. These three farms were chosen to highlight New Hampshire agriculture and to exemplify successful USDA programs. Alyson's Farm is a family-owned 500 acre working orchard that also offers lodging and a year-round event and conference center. They grow plums, peaches, berries, grapes and pears, and offer over 50 varieties of apples. Walpole Valley Farms is a three-generation family-owned and operated farm in the heart of the Connecticut River Valley. NRCS programs were showcased at the farm, including: forest and farm management, a seasonal high tunnel, rotational grazing, a livestock watering system, and buffers and stream crossings to protect water quality. Stonewall Farm, a nonprofit working farm and educational center, has been in agricultural use for the past 250 years. The farm operates and manages a herd of 30 organic dairy cows, as well as a year-round CSA, farmstand, and the educational center. In 2008, Stonewall Farm was named a New Hampshire Farm of Distinction; a New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food program that recognizes the efforts of a neat and attractive farm. Merrigan also met with representatives of the Monadnock Economic Development Corporation and toured the site of the new Monadnock Community Market Co-op, another USDA guaranteed loan recipient. Scheduled to open in early 2013, the Monadnock Community Market Co-op will provide New Hampshire farmers the opportunity to sell their food locally, strengthening the community and the economy. Merrigan's tour concluded with an evening meeting with students and faculty of Keene State College as part of her USDA College Tour. She has visited nearly 30 colleges and universities so far, educating young people about the nation's food and agriculture system and opportunities in farming. Through the 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' initiative, USDA is emphasizing the need for a fundamental and critical reconnection between producers and consumers. The effort builds on the 2008 Farm Bill, which provides for increases and flexibility for USDA programs in an effort to revitalize rural economies by supporting local and regional food systems. 'Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food' is helping to break down barriers that keep local food systems from thriving; to create new opportunities for farmers, ranchers, consumers and rural communities; and to expand access to healthy food. USDA recently unveiled the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) Compass, an interactive web-based document and map highlighting USDA support for local and regional food projects and successful producer, business and community case studies. The KYF Compass is a digital guide to USDA resources related to local and regional food systems. The Compass consists of an interactive U.S. map showing local and regional food projects and an accompanying narrative documenting the results of this work through case studies, photos and video content. President Obama's plan for rural America has brought about historic investment and resulted in stronger rural communities. Under the President's leadership, these investments in housing, community facilities, businesses and infrastructure have empowered rural America to continue leading the way – strengthening America's economy, small towns and rural communities. USDA's investments in rural communities support the rural way of life that stands as the backbone of our American values. President Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are committed to a smarter use of Federal resources to foster sustainable economic prosperity and ensure the government is a strong partner for businesses, entrepreneurs and working families in rural communities.