Mapping the USDA’s Local Food Work

21 Jul, 2012

by Tom Laskaway, via

USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass MapOn 19 July, 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released what it’s calling the “2.0 version” of its Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass. For those not in the know, the Compass is a map of all of the local food projects—including farmers markets, food hubs, infrastructure, and producers—the USDA funds.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food (KYF) initiative itself is the brainchild of USDA Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan—possibly the highest ranking supporter of sustainable agriculture we’ve ever had at USDA—as a way to highlight efforts to aid local foods.

I’m a big fan of mapping as a visualization tool and the Compass certainly provides lots of data. That said, it’s not really much of a consumer-focused tool compared with private efforts like, which not only maps farmers markets and farms, but also shows the links between particular restaurants and their local artisanal and farm suppliers.

Instead, the KYF Compass is a way to illustrate what Merrigan and her team are accomplishing. The Compass demonstrates the national reach of USDA-funded local food products; there are little dots all over the country and in every state. Similarly, the KYF website has new local food “case studies” that spell out the department’s recent work. Here are some examples:

The Compass also proves that local food isn’t just a coastal phenomenon; it’s thriving in Nevada, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, too (and also, you know, Micronesia).

The stories themselves are pretty cool, but it’s also worth considering the Compass as a very conscious effort to paint a picture of KYF as benefiting a broad range of regions and businesses.

For example, the local-meat case study in Seattle features a librarian-turned-sausage-maker who wanted to open a USDA-inspected sausage factory in his garage. And, with the help of the right folks at USDA, he succeeded. The Wisconsin story describes a virtuous circle that begins with hoop houses on small farms to extend growing seasons, which led to an increase in so-called “value-added food business” (i.e. artisanal products like jam and pickles), which led to jobs and higher incomes.

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