The local food movement isn't just for chefs: It's moved beyond niche and into schools, groceries, local restaurants of all sizes and even into food stamps.
Last year, local food sales topped $11.7 billion, according to the USDA, which has invested more than $800 million into local food businesses and infrastructure in the last six years.
Kentucky leads the nation in participation in federally funded local food projects, with 1,659 projects including high tunnels that extend the growing season, microloans for smaller farmers, and direct funding for food hubs, farmers' markets and other local food enterprises.
"Kentucky is well-suited to take advantage of those efforts," Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said Tuesday in an interview with the Herald-Leader.
Kentucky's bipartisan Shaping Our Appalachian Region initiative identified local and regional food systems as opportunities to create new jobs and new entrepreneurship, Vilsack said.
Kentucky also has benefited from President Obama's efforts to reinvigorate rural communities, Vilsack said, including last year's inclusion of two communities — Barbourville and Hazard — in the Local Food, Local Places federal initiative that set up extra technical support for communities.
Vilsack announced on Tuesday that a second round of Local Food, Local Places funding is available. Communities can apply by Sept. 15 online at USDA.gov for help for projects such as establishing food hubs and creating food business incubators.
Last year, Barbourville received support to expand its current farmers market into a permanent facility; Hazard is developing a non-profit organization to launch community identified local food system projects, including creating the North Fork Market, a local food retail store.
Vilsack said the projects help develop a sense of community and connection to farmers.
Consumers benefit, too, from more fresh choices and creating relationships with local producers, Vilsack said.
In Kentucky, 73 farmers markets and direct-to-consumer outlets accept SNAP or food stamps now; nearly $80,000 in SNAP benefits were redeemed at Kentucky's farmers markets last year, according to the USDA.
"People believe that they can't afford to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, which is why we try to educate people," Vilsack said. "It isn't just the farmers' market. There are 221 farm-to-school grants, and roughly 40 percent are purchasing food locally, for over 40,000 separate schools, 25 million kids. There's a lot of interest in this space."