The U.S. Department of Agriculture doesn't just talk a big, local food game.
This morning, Lyle Allen, director of Chicago's Green City Market, got the call he's been hoping for months to get: The market has been awarded $76,300 as part of a sweeping federal initiative announced last week by the USDA to boost local, sustainable agriculture.
"It's a big day for the Green City Market," says Allen, who got the news via an early morning e-mail.
Ann Wright, the USDA's deputy undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, was just in Chicago last week for the Chefs Collaborative National Summit, where she detailed some of the "Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer" intiative, which includes these farmers market grants as well as a farm-to-school program.
Allen says a good portion of the money will go toward setting up a scholarship program for farmers who sell at Green City Market to attend seminars and conferences that will help them on their way to becoming certified organic or sustainable.
The market is requiring that all of their participating farmers and producers be third party-certified by 2012.
"For some of these small family farms, we know it's a big ask, and since I took on this position last May, I really wanted to find ways to provide outreach to help them," Allen says.
The USDA funds also will help the market promote its electronic benefits transfer program -- which was on hold this past year -- for customers on the federal food stamp program.
"We're hoping to encourage folks on limited incomes that Green City Market is a place where they can come and educate them about nutrition and eating better," Allen says. "I don't think eating better is a luxury that should be available to certain parties and not others."
In all, the USDA awarded 86 grants totaling $4.5 million to farmers markets in 37 states.