U.S. Agriculture Sec. Tom Vilsack will be at the National Governors Association's summer meeting in Des Moines Saturday to discuss the value of local foods to rural economies.
Vilsack says in order to repopulate rural communities, smaller farming operations need consumers that don't put a premium on size and speed. One strategy to carve out markets for these smaller producers is through food hubs.
"Locally grown items are aggregated from a variety of producers and then sold in bulk to a restaurant, to a grocery store, to a school," says Vilsack, who served as Iowa's govenror from 1999 to 2007. "We know that each one of those food hubs that gets constructed and supported can help to employ up to 20 people. In a small town, something that employs 20 folks is a pretty important piece of economic development."
Many consumers are willing to pay more for food grown nearby because it's often fresher, supports the local economy and may have a lower carbon footprint.
Vilsack adds the USDA has invested nearly $1 billion in local and regional food systems. This includes grants and programs to foster connections between growers and consumers.