USDA Highlights Arkansas Communities In ‘Made In Rural America’ Initiative Report

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has released its updated state-by-state report for its “Made in Rural America” initiative, highlighting the fact that the export of farm and ranch products contributed $4 billion to the Arkansas economy in the past year.

In 2014, the USDA said it invested in 577 local food projects across Arkansas, helping to develop food hubs, small-scale processing, farmers markets and other market opportunities in local food. Overall, the USDA said it has invested $16 million to help rural manufacturers in Arkansas increase production and capacity, helping to support many of the state’s 75,614 blue collar jobs in rural areas of the state.

Nationwide, industry figures show that local food sales topped $11.7 billion in 2014, underscoring the economic benefit that a local food system can offer a community, USDA officials said. The federal agency said it has invested more than $800 million in more than 29,100 local and regional food businesses and infrastructure projects over the past six years.

In Arkansas, here are some additional highlights from the USDA, showing that the “Made in Rural America” program has:

· Helped 27,123 Arkansas families purchase or repair home, providing access to safe, affordable housing critical to maintaining the state’s rural labor force, officials said.
· Invested $279.8 million in telecommunications projects serving rural Arkansans, which has helped to expand access to state-of-the-art health care, educational, and cultural resources and helps rural businesses compete in the global economy.
· Advanced $261.7 million to support efficient water supply, treatment and storage facilities, and wastewater treatment systems. That investment has improved the health of thousands of rural Arkansans who now have access to clean water and reliable sanitation.

In addition to releasing its state-by-state report, the Obama administration has also invited communities to participate in “Local Foods, Local Places,” a two-year old federal initiative that provides direct technical support to build strong local food systems as part of a community’s emerging economic action plan.

Under this effort, a team of agricultural, transportation, public health, environmental, and regional economic experts will work directly with local communities to spur local economic growth and improve the quality of life for all residents.

In the second year of the program in 2014, three Arkansas cities were among the 26 rural and urban communities that participated in the federal food development program.

For example, the USDA said community members in Flippin came together to create a new school garden, launch a farmers market, and plan a new sidewalk connecting the town’s school complex, downtown, and park. With its new “Local Foods, Local Places” action plan, the community is working toward forming a local growers’ co-op and establishing a Whole Farm Conference to better connect farmers with one another, federal officials said.

In North Little Rock, the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub and community officials developed an action plan focused on creating a new food hub, enhancing the services of regional food bank efforts, and linking emerging food-related activities to boosting walkability, livability and economic vibrancy in the Argenta neighborhood.

Technical support teams in Osceola, which included local city officials, the University of Arkansas and the local school district, used their new action plan to coordinate and enhance healthy foods education, including development of a new healthy foods cooking curriculum in the school district. The community is also creating a farmers market in the downtown, where it is working on infrastructure improvements, cleanup efforts, USDA officials said.

To view the USDA’s updated state-by-state “Made in Rural America” report and fact sheets, click here.