By Lauren Moore, FSA Public Affairs Specialist
USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Val Dolcini recently put on an apron and joined local author, storyteller and chef Jonathan Bardzik in a lunch-hour cooking demonstration in the USDA South Building cafeteria.
Bardzik, creator of more than 600 recipes using fresh produce he buys at local farmers markets, said it’s important for cities to have access to farm-fresh food found at farmers markets, urban agriculture operations and farms near city limits. Since 2011, he has done more than 150 live appearances at venues across the United States, including Eastern Market in Washington, D.C.
The demonstration menu consisted of minestrone pasta, eggplant and tomato soup, green beans with pistou sauce, mesclun with honey crisp apples and cider honey vinaigrette. The goal was to engage and educate the USDA workforce and tourists visiting from the National Mall by illustrating the connection between USDA’s programs and the food under preparation. While cooking, Dolcini and Bardzik discussed how FSA helps growers to move produce from the farm to the marketplace and ultimately to the table.
The mission of FSA is to serve all farmers, ranchers and agricultural partners by delivering effective, efficient agriculture programs that ultimately benefit all Americans. While serving as “Sous Chef for the Day,” Dolcini shared with Bardzik the many ways FSA provides support to farmers, including new farmers. According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the average age of farm operators is 58, so FSA’s loans and other programs for beginning farmers and ranchers can help with starting a new endeavor or expanding or enhancing an existing operation.
“In terms of expanding opportunity for farmers and ranchers and making new financial opportunities available, the work horse of our portfolio is the microloan program. In the last three years, we’ve made about 25,000 of these small, low-interest loans and they’ve really been game-changers across the nation,” said Dolcini. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity for FSA to reach out to folks who are urban farmers, or farming on a smaller scale. FSA can play an important role for them.”
Dolcini and Bardzik also discussed the impact FSA has on American agriculture, and how FSA programs help safeguard its future. One such program is the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP).
“We’ve done a lot of work on CRP to enhance air and water quality, to prevent soil erosion, and to create habitat for waterfowl, wetland and upland species,” said Dolcini. “It’s had a lot of wonderful impacts, in addition to providing a little economic incentive for farmers and ranchers.”
CRP is a land conservation program administered by FSA. In exchange for a yearly rental payment, farmers enrolled in the program agree to remove environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production and plant grasses, shrubs and trees that will improve environmental health and quality.
“The programs that FSA, and other USDA agencies, have are all there because the American people saw a need to have an agricultural safety net,” Dolcini said. “That safety net is a key investment that Americans should be proud of. It has provided affordable, safe and reliable food supply for all Americans in every corner of the country.”
The guests in attendance tried all four delicious and freshly-prepared recipes during and after the demonstration. Bardzik offered recipe cards so guests were able to recreate the recipes in their own kitchens. During his next demonstration, Bardzik will be cooking with Brandon Willis, Administrator of the USDA Risk Management Agency.