May 28, 2015
U.S. Farm Policy: Local and Regional Food Systems
What Are “Local Food Systems”? There is no established
definition of what constitutes a “local food.” Local and
regional food systems generally refer to agricultural
production and marketing that occurs within a certain
geographic proximity (between farmer and consumer) or
that involves certain social or supply chain characteristics in
producing food (such as small family farms, urban gardens,
or farms using sustainable agriculture practices). Some
perceive locally sourced foods as fresher and higher in
quality compared to some other readily available foods or
believe that purchasing local foods helps support local farm
economies and/or farmers that use production practices that
are perceived to be more environmentally sustainable.
Many federal programs that support local foods generally
define “local” based on the geographic distance between
food production and sales based on the number of miles the
food may be transported and/or require that food be sold
within the state where it is produced to be considered local.
A wide range of farm businesses may be considered to be
engaged in local foods. These include direct-to-consumer
marketing, farmers’ markets, farm-to-school programs,
community-supported agriculture (CSA), community
gardens, school gardens, and food hubs. Other types of
operations may include on-farm sales/stores, internet
marketing, food cooperatives and buying clubs, roadside
stands, “pick-your-own” operations, urban farms,
community kitchens, small-scale food processing and
decentralized root cellars, and some agritourism or on-farm
Sales of locally produced foods comprise a small but
growing part of U.S. agricultural sales. Estimates vary but
indicate that local food sales total between $4 billion to $12
billion annually. Estimates reported by the U.S. Department
of Agriculture (USDA) show the extent to which local food
sales have increased in recent years. For 2008, USDA
estimated that the farm-level value of U.S. local food sales
totaled about $4.8 billion (Figure 1). An estimated total of
107,000 farms were engaged in local food systems, about
5% of all U.S. farms. USDA’s most recent estimates, for
2012, put U.S. local food sales at $6.1 billion, reflecting
sales from nearly 164,000 farmers (about 8% of U.S.
farms). Local foods accounted for an estimated 1.5% of the
value of total U.S. agricultural production.
USDA further reports that small farms rely more on directto-consumer marketing channels (such as farmers’ markets,
roadside stands, on-farm stores, and CSAs) as compared to
larger farms. Farms making less than $75,000 in annual
gross income account for 85% of all local food farms.
Does the Federal Government Support Local Foods?
Many existing federal programs benefiting U.S. agricultural
producers may also provide support and assistance for local
food systems. With few exceptions, these programs are not
limited or targeted to local or regional food systems, but are
generally available to provide support to all U.S. farms and
ranchers. These include farm support and grant programs
administered by USDA as well as programs within other
federal agencies, such as the Departments of Commerce;
Health and Human Services; and the Treasury.
Figure 1. USDA Estimates of Local Food Sales, Farm
Value (2008 and 2012)
Source: CRS from USDA data: 2012 (S. A. Low, et al., Trends in U.S. Local
and Regional Food Systems: Report to Congress, AP-068, January 2015) and
2008 (S. Low and S. Vogel, “Local Foods Marketing Channels Encompass a
Wide Range of Producers,” Amber Waves, December 2011).
Programs administered by USDA may be grouped into
broad categories: marketing and promotion; business
assistance and agricultural research; rural and community
development; nutrition and education; and farmland
conservation. Examples include USDA’s farmers’ market
programs, rural cooperative grants, and child nutrition
programs, as well as USDA’s research and cooperative
extension service. (See listing of selected programs in text
box on next page.) This listing does not include broadbased conservation or research and cooperative extension
programs that also provide benefits to a range of
agricultural producers, including producers engaged in local
food production systems, either directly or indirectly.
The most widely used definition of what constitutes “local”
foods for the purposes of U.S. federal support programs is
from the 2008 farm bill (P.L. 110-246), which defined a
“locally or regionally produced agricultural food product”
as it pertains to eligibility under USDA’s Business and
Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program. Under the
definition, “locally or regionally produced agricultural food
product” means “any agricultural food product that is
raised, produced, and distributed in ... the locality or region
in which the final product is marketed, so that the total
distance that the product is transported is less than 400
miles from the origin of the product”; or “any agricultural
food product that is raised, produced, and distributed in ...
the State in which the product is produced” (§6015).
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U.S. Farm Policy: Local and Regional Food Systems
Selected Federal Programs Supporting Local Foods
Marketing and Promotion
Specialty Crop Block Grant Program
Farmers’ Market Promotion Program
Local Food Promotion Program
Federal State Marketing Improvement Program
Business Assistance and Research
Value-Added Agric. Product Market Development Grants
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program
USDA Microloan Program
Small Business Innovation Research
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education
Agricultural Management Assistance
Community Outreach and Assistance Partnership Program
Outreach/Assist. to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers/Ranchers
Rural and Community Development Programs
Rural Cooperative Development Grant
Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program
Community Facilities loans and grants
Rural Business Development Grants
Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program
Nutrition Assistance Programs
Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at
Farm to School Program
Programs supporting School and Community Gardens
Commodity Procurement programs (e.g., “DoD Fresh”)
Healthy Food Financing Initiative
Community Food Projects
Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grants
For information on these programs, see CRS Report R43950, Local Food
Systems: Selected Farm Bill and Other Federal Programs.
The Obama Administration has implemented departmental
initiatives intended to support local food systems, such as
the “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” (KYF2)
Initiative, among other activities. In general, these
initiatives are intended to eliminate organizational barriers
among existing USDA programs and promote enhanced
collaboration among staff, leveraging existing USDA
activities and programs. These are not stand-alone
programs, are not connected to a specific office or agency,
and do not have separate operating budgets.
Federal program funding for local foods has increased in
recent years, and estimates of reported spending can often
vary widely depending on which programs are included.
USDA allocated more than $80 million in program-level
funding for local foods in FY2015. This estimate includes
$26.6 million for two grant programs (the Farmers Market
Promotion Program and the Local Food Marketing
Promotion Program); $4.8 million for Community Food
Projects Competitive Grants; $1 million for matching
Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program grants; and
roughly $50 million for loans under USDA’s B&I program.
This estimate does not include funding for state block
grants for specialty crops or funding for certified organic
production since the original intent of these programs was
to support fruit and vegetable production and also organic
agriculture, respectively, and not local foods specifically.
Other federal programs may provide support, but the share
of available spending for local foods is not known.
Which U.S. Laws Address Local Food Systems?
Authorizations for many of the selected programs listed
here are contained within periodic farm bills or within the
most recent reauthorization of the child nutrition programs.
• Farm Bill Programs. The 2014 farm bill (Agricultural
Act of 2014, P.L. 113-79) is the most recent omnibus
farm bill. In the run-up to the 2014 farm bill, several bills
were introduced in Congress broadly addressing local
food systems. Some were “marker bills” addressing
provisions across multiple farm bill titles and
recommending changes that would have provided
additional directed support for local and regional food
systems. Others addressed specific issues. Some
provisions from these bills were incorporated into the
2014 farm bill. Although recent farm bills have contained
some specific programs that directly support local and
regional food systems, the local impact of new and
existing programs may depend on appropriated funding
and the nature of implementation.
• Child Nutrition Programs. Child nutrition programs and
the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women,
Infants, and Children (WIC) provide cash, commodity,
and other assistance under the Richard B. Russell
National School Lunch Act and the Child Nutrition Act.
Local foods are sometimes promoted under these
programs. Section 32 of the act of August 24, 1935 (7
U.S.C. §612c) may provide for additional program
funding in some cases. Congress periodically reviews and
reauthorizes expiring authorities under these laws. The
most recent reauthorization of the child nutrition
programs was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of
2010 (P.L. 111-296).
Other legislation introduced in past Congresses has
addressed specific issues, including proposals to provide
targeted support for non-traditional and beginning farmers,
focused at the farm production level, as well as proposals
focused on nutrition and enhanced access to food.
What Issues Are Influencing the Debate in Congress?
Some in Congress continue to express the need to change
farm policies in ways that might further enhance support for
local food systems and rural communities, arguing that U.S.
farm policy should be modified to reflect broader, more
equitable treatment across a range of production systems,
including local food systems. Supporters often cite the
increasing popularity of local foods and a general belief that
purchasing local foods helps support local farm economies
and/or farmers that use certain production practices that
some consider more environmentally sustainable.
Others in Congress oppose extending farm bill support to
explicitly support local food producers, who are already
eligible for many farm bill programs. Other issues include
overall limited financial resources to support U.S.
agricultural producers as well as concerns that local food
systems might not provide for the most efficient and
productive use of available natural resources for producing
food, among other criticisms.
Renée Johnson, email@example.com, 7-9588
www.crs.gov | 7-5700