Thursday, October 1, 2009

USDA's First Ever Facebook Chat

Screen Shot (Lexi Van de Walle): USDA's First Facebook Chat

Food advocates, locavores and other interested participants from all over the country bubbled over with enthusiasm at the US Department of Agriculture’s first ever live Facebook chat.

The “Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer” team at the USDA hosted the interactive conversation which featured a streaming video question and answer format with Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan.

For about a half an hour, Merrigan gave thoughtful answers to questions on topics that ranged from farm to institution to restaurant supported agriculture and beginner farmer programs to the importance of local and regional agriculture to build wealth in rural communities and connect urban dwellers (and children) to where their food comes from.

Food and agriculture are at the center of national conversations and so is local and regional agriculture. “Even the word locavore was the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year” cheered Merrigan early in the discussion.

One participant asked about the definition of “local”. “There is no USDA definition of local as each region is different. In some areas, a state’s borders defines local” she said citing Vermont Grown as an example of a state-centric food system. “And, in others, it’s a common area or foodshed”.

The Deputy Secretary was careful to explain that the purpose of the “Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer” campaign is not to replace the global food system but rather to facilitate local and seasonal food systems, “100% locavores we are not” she said. Clearly, Merrigan and the team at the USDA understand what it means to be a "lighthearted locavore" vs. a "hardcore locavore". (Click here for more on the definition of locavore and lighthearted locavore.)

Why do we want to know our farmers? asked another. “Farmers are the rock stars”, Merrigan said rather excitedly. “There is real value to understanding where our food comes from”. She spelled out the connections between fresh foods and knowing where our food comes from to health care, preventive health, and climate change. “Farmers are the best environmental stewards. Farmers know how to sequester carbon and manage the soil.”

She ended the first ever USDA Facebook chat with a call to action, “GO TO YOUR FARMERS MARKET”. With a slight echo in the audio the words “GO TO YOUR FARMERS MARKET” reverberated before the picture went blank.

Participants lingered quickly typing and posting dozens of overwhelmingly positive comments about about the USDA’s “Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer” dialogue and its promise to host more Facebook chats.

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