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Jan 26 -- This notice announces the Agricultural Marketing Service's (AMS) intention to request OMB's approval for extension of Local Food Directories and Survey (OMB 0581-0169). Under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended, AMS is responsible for conducting research to enhance market access for small and medium sized farmers. The role of the Marketing Services Division (MSD) of AMS is to facilitate distribution of U.S. agricultural products. This information is used to populate USDA's National Farmers Market Directory and periodically market managers are invited to participate in a comprehensive survey assessing the farmers market sector. Comments on this notice must be received by OMB by March 2, 2023. [Comments due 30 days after submission to OMB on January 31.]

Under the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946, as amended (7 U.S.C. 1621 et seq.), AMS is responsible for conducting research to enhance market access for small- and medium-sized farmers. To facilitate distribution of U.S. agricultural products, MSD identifies marketing opportunities; provides analysis to help take advantage of those opportunities; and develops and evaluates solutions, including improving farmers markets and other direct-to-consumer marketing activities. Various types of direct-to-customer local food enterprises serve different parts of the food marketing chain but all focus on the small-to medium-sized agricultural producers that have difficulty obtaining access to large scale commercial distribution channels.

Information from this collection is used to populate USDA’s Local Food Directories which consist of four national directories, USDA’s: Farmers Market Directory, Community Supported Agriculture, (CSA) Directory, Food Hub Directory and On-Farm Market Directory. These directories provide no-cost advertising for these four direct to customer marketing channels.  Greater visibility of these marketing channels increases customer awareness of these enterprises, enhance market transparency and thereby promote sales through these marketing channels. The use of these marketing channels has enabled farmers to receive a larger share of customers’ food dollar.  

USDA’s Farmers Market Directory contains over one thousand farmers markets.  USDA’s Community Supported Agriculture Directory lists over 800 CSA enterprises. USDA’s Food Hub Directory lists over 200 food hubs and USDA’s On-Farm Market Directory lists over 1,400 on-farm markets.  Beyond those data users who are directly involved in these marketing channels, the data collected by AMS are widely used by community planners, public health officials and Geographic Information System, (GIS), research specialists to guide decisions pertaining to community quality of life and investment decisions, by software developers looking to develop popular mobile applications, and by general members of the public seeking local sources of high-quality fresh food.   

Topic areas in USDA’s National Farmers Market Managers Survey include characteristics of farmers markets, market locations, types of products sold, months days and time of operation, number of vendors, and vendor characteristics, availability of nutrition assistance and education programs, special events, vendor retention, market growth and enhancement, what information farmers market managers have and how they derive estimates of the number of customers, customer preferences, and sales.

As mandated by our legislative authority, our data collection and analysis of farmers markets allow us to provide support and technical guidance to the small to medium-sized agricultural producers who rely on farmers markets to market their products in combination with other direct to consumer marketing arrangements.   

Direct marketing through the nation’s farmers markets provides an opportunity to increase the utilization of successful USDA programs, such as the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, WIC Cash Value Voucher, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (formally called “food stamps”). They also provide a “teachable moment” for diet, health, and nutrition services and programs.  Efforts to enhance direct marketing opportunities supplement a continuing cross-Departmental program that endeavors to enhance fresh food access, stimulate local economic development, improve community, quality of life, and combat obesity by making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible.  

The definitions of farmers markets, on-farm market, CSA, and food hub are listed below.

A farmers market is a collection of two or more farm vendors selling agricultural products directly to customers at a common, recurrent physical location.

An on-farm market is an area of a facility affiliated with a farm where transactions between a farm market operator and customers take place. An on-farm market may operate seasonally or year-round.  On-farm markets are an important component of direct marketing, adding value by offering customers a visit to the farm and the opportunity to purchase products from the people who grew them.  Producers selling from the farm reduce their transportation cost and time away from their operation required to market their products directly to customers.

CSA is another type of food-production and direct marketing relationship between a farmer or network of farmers and consumers who typically purchase “shares” of the season’s harvest in advance of the growing season.  The upfront working capital generated by selling shares in advance of harvest reduces the financial risk to the farmer and improves their cash flow.  In addition, farmers generally receive better prices for goods marketed through their CSA crops than through wholesale marketing channels.  Meanwhile, consumers benefit by receiving regular (usually weekly) deliveries of fresh locally-grown vegetables, fruit, meats, eggs and/or other food items. They also benefit from the ability to directly support the economic viability of local farmers through their purchasing decisions.

Food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products, primarily from local and regional producers, to enhance the ability of small and medium-sized to access wholesale, retail, and institutional marketing channels by allowing them to meet buyer requirements and specifications through collective marketing arrangements, and thereby increase the volume of sales they are able to generate.  In many cases, the use of food hubs allows small and medium-sized farm operators to obtain higher prices for their agricultural products than they would in alternative wholesale outlets because of the ability to differentiate their products based on origin and other desired quality characteristics.

In combination with farmers markets, on-farm markets, CSAs, and food hubs allow consumers to have greater access to a broader range of locally grown, farm fresh produce, often give farmers the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with their customers and cultivate consumer loyalty. By providing consumers greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables, they have been influential in encouraging consumers to purchase a greater volume of fresh produce, a behavior associated with better dietary habits and health outcomes.  

Local Food Directories: https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/local-regional/food-directories
AMS submission to OMB: https://www.reginfo.gov/public/do/PRAViewICR?ref_nbr=202301-0581-002 Click IC List for information collection instrument, View Supporting Statement for technical documentation. Submit comments through this webpage.
FRN: https://www.federalregister.gov/d/2023-01532

For AEA members wishing to submit comments, "A Primer on How to Respond to Calls for Comment on Federal Data Collections" is available at https://www.aeaweb.org/content/file?id=5806

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