From SustainableAgricuture.net, 27 Jan 2012.
This week, USDA’s Office of Advocacy and Outreach launched their website located at www.outreach.usda.gov.
The Office of Advocacy and Outreach (OAO) was established in the 2008 Farm Bill in order to increase access to USDA programs and to improve the viability and profitability of small farms and ranches, beginning farmers and ranchers, and socially disadvantaged farmers or ranchers. The office is intended to serve as a focal point for the development of improved policies to foster increased farming opportunities and as a conduit between USDA agencies and the Secretary of Agriculture to aid in the better alignment of programs and rules and regulations with the goal of advancing farming opportunities and viability.
NSAC helped develop the original proposal for the office, and was successful in working with congressional champions to get the office included in the last farm bill.
The Office has five key program areas, the first three of which were included in the last farm bill with the other two added administratively:
- Socially Disadvantaged Farmers, which coordinates with USDA agencies to enhance access to USDA programs by minority farmers and ranchers, and also administers the Outreach and Technical Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers (OASDFR), also known as “Section 2501 Program.” The Advisory Committee on Minority Farmers is housed within OAO and makes recommendations to the Secretary of Agriculture on how USDA can better meet the needs of minority farmers.
- Small and Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, which coordinates and collaborates across USDA to enhance services to small and beginning farmers and ranchers, and manages the activities of the Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers. The Committee advises the Secretary on ways to develop programs to provide coordinated assistance to beginning farmers and ranchers while maximizing new farming and ranching opportunities.
- Farm Worker Coordination, which administers two grant programs to assist low-income and migrant seasonal farm worker, works to improve agricultural education opportunities for low-income and migrant seasonal farm workers, and houses a Farm Worker Coordinator who is charged with integrating farm worker interests into USDA programs.
- Higher Education Institutions Program, which administers a nationwide network of USDA liaisons to the various institutions of higher learning including 1890 land-grant institutions, 1994 tribal land-grant institutions, and Hispanic-serving institutions.
- Community Engagement, which seeks to engage community members and stakeholders in the outreach and advocacy work of the Office.
OAO’s website features several important resources for small, beginning, women, minority, and limited resource farmers and farmworkers. Their financial resources page includes helpful links to USDA credit programs managed by the Farm Service Agency, for both individual farmers and groups, cooperatives, and non-profit organizations or local government. The new website also helps connect producers with their local USDA offices in order to sign up for federal programs, such as FSA loan programs or conservation programs offered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
There are also links to online resources where farmers who believe they were treated unfairly by USDA while applying for federal farm programs, can appeal or file a discrimination claim with the Department of Justice.
This website is a work in progress, and we hope will serve as a valuable resource to connect farmers and ranchers with federal programs and funding opportunities offered through the Department of Agriculture. If you have any feedback on how to improve the site, we encourage you to contact the Office of Advocacy and Outreach.