According to a January 10 press release, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture award of $900,000 to the Wallace Center at Winrock International. The funds will be used to operate the Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center. This organization promotes locally produced agricultural products to underserved communities.
In a statement issued in the press release Vilsack commented "this ambitious effort will create a national center to help establish local and regional food systems and get healthy food into low-income communities which are important components of USDA Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative." Further information on these programs can be obtained from the Web sites www.usda.gov/knowyour farmer and www.wallacecenter.org.
This grant is consistent with the policy of USDA under the present Administration to promote small-farm enterprises and is consistent with a number of recent initiatives. Unfortunately, funding these endeavors flies in the face of reality and economics. The productivity of U.S. agriculture is based on efficiency, mechanization, economy of scale and the application of advanced technology. The cost of small-scale farming with the inherent difficulties of distribution and marketing result in produce, eggs and meat at far higher prices and with lower levels of safety than food from commercial-scale cultivation, husbandry and processing.
It is hoped that in these days of financial stringency public funds will be assigned to projects which have the greatest potential to benefit the largest number of stakeholders. Supporting programs which may be politically expedient and conform to well-meaning intentions but which are financially and technically unsupportable is contrary to good stewardship. It would be interesting to review an independent evaluation of programs such as the grant to the Wallace Center in terms of return on investments and benefits.