The USDA unveiled an updated version of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass on Tuesday with a Google+ hangout designed to connect consumers with producers and facilitate participation in and discussion about local food systems.
The tool offers new case studies, updated map data, and improved search features that make it easy for consumers to learn more about local food production. New maps include farmers market databases, food hubs, and meat processing facility information. Maps are searchable using zip code radiuses and keywords, and they provide contact information for special project managers.
"Local food is a rapidly growing trend in American agriculture. It offers additional market opportunities for farmers, ranchers and food business entrepreneurs while enabling consumers to develop a deeper understanding of where their food comes from and how it is produced," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan.
Merrigan, along with Jon Carson, White House Director of Public Engagement, hosted the Google+ hangout with assistance from female leaders in the local food movement including a fourth-generation farmer in Oregon, a Farm-to-School food coordinator in Oklahoma and current Baltimore, Md., mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.
Other guests include Susan Noble, a Wisconsin economic development leader, New Mexico Farm to Table Executive Director Pamela Roy, and Valerie Segrest, a community nutritionist for the Muckelshoot Indian Tribe near Seattle, Wash.
Merrigan highlighted the changes in the new local foods map during the hangout. She said the updates included geospatial mapping that allowed consumers to examine case studies.
'I consider [the compass] 100% better in terms of its navigational capacity," Merrigan said. She added that the enhanced features allow users to find out how much USDA funding has been obtained by growers on the map, and map users can also network across the country with producers.
One beneficiary of USDA resources was Cory Carman of Carman Ranch in Oregon. Her family raises grassfed beef that is purchased by local universities and restaurants.
"There are some huge challenges in raising and marketing local food," Carman said, "and we have received a ton of help from the USDA."
Carman said the tools that USDA has provided will increase her participation in the local foods movement by allowing her to connect with other producers that are trying to promote similar operations.