Merrigan ‘Knows’ Ag

December 8, 2012 06:28 AM
Merrigan ‘Knows’ Ag

USDA deputy secretary honored for local food initiative

Communication between consumers and farmers is increasingly important. Yet, far too often, misinformation rules the day. Moved by their frustration, Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan and
others at USDA launched Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food in 2009.

Merrigan was recently honored by the James Beard Foundation for her role in making the initiative a success. She received the JBF Leadership Award along with author Wendell Berry, Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund, Tensie Whelan of the Rainforest Alliance and Malik Yakini of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

"These trailblazers are all working to create a more sustainable future, and it is through their monumental achievements that we are able to continue a critical conversation about the future of food," says Susan Ungaro, pres-ident of the James Beard Foundation.

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food is a USDA-wide effort to promote local and regional food systems. It does this through a website ( that is more of a "one-stop shop" than similar online resources. While USDA has a lot of helpful information, Merrigan says, its website isn’t user-friendly.

"The USDA website is a huge mountain to climb," she says. "How do people really know what’s there? How can we make it more accessible and transparent to people?"

USDA helps answer these questions through the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food website. The goal is to spark conversations about food and promote transparency about local USDA funding, Merrigan says. The website has information about grants and loans, school-to-farm programs, and other tools and resources.

A highlight of the website is an interactive compass map that shows who received what funding, and what it was used for. "There’s no more wondering who’s getting resources and how they’re using them," Merrigan says. She hopes local communities will use the interactive map to discover inspiring success stories and engage in new networking opportunities. The website regularly adds new content.

Merrigan says she is flattered by the JBF Leadership Award but adds that there is still much work to be done.

"I’m proud of what we’ve done, but there are still many untapped avenues," she says. "We’ve just scratched the surface. We can do better."

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Goals

The goal of the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative is to lead the dialogue about food and agriculture to strengthen the connection between consumers and farmers. USDA promotes programs and policies that can:

  • stimulate food- and ag-based community economic development.
  • foster new opportunities for farmers and ranchers.
  • promote locally and regionally produced and processed foods.
  • cultivate healthy eating habits and educated, empowered consumers.
  • expand access to affordable fresh and local food.
  • demonstrate the connection between food, agriculture, community and the environment.


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