Local farmers play a vital role in feeding their communities and keeping them thriving. While individuals can easily purchase farm-fresh produce at farmers' markets, options for sourcing local food are also expanding. More and more families are finding it at local grocery stores, restaurants, and schools.
The local and regional food systems that support this network of local producers, retailers, and consumers are challenged by their unique There is growing awareness and support for added value. such as pandemics and climate change). Recent examples include President Biden's executive order to strengthen supply chains and USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) to build on existing partnerships and initiatives with funding authorized under the American Rescue Plan Act. start making your own investments to strengthen your supply chain and prioritize the resources that are most needed. At the beginning of this year, AMS announced the selection of 12 new regional food business centers (centres) with her three main responsibilities:
- Collaborate with a wide range of regional partners and stakeholders to develop a strategic plan for the Center region, align existing efforts, and develop new opportunities to support a more resilient and competitive food system.
- To increase participation in local food systems, we provide business technical assistance across the supply chain, including producers, processors, aggregators, and distributors, with a focus on small and medium-sized enterprises.
- We will deploy 'Business Builder' grants to help companies build their capacity and expand their business.
Regional food business center structure
In May of this year, USDA entered into cooperative agreements with 12 organizations to lead the operations of their respective regional centers, manage project activities, and coordinate with planning and implementation teams. Each center covers a distinct geographic area spanning multiple states or territories. The National Intertribal Center covers the whole country. USDA AMS staff will be located at the Center to ensure that USDA funding opportunities and resources are proactively shared and that learnings from the field are shared with national program staff. The center will not have a physical location, but will develop an online platform that will be a place for companies to obtain information and facilitate connections across the supply chain.
Each center has one distinct organizational leader but a wide range of partners including formal organizations such as state government agencies, higher education institutions, nonprofit organizations, economic development corporations, and stakeholder networks such as producer networks and associations. is led by. Local Food Council.
For example, the Center for Regional Food Systems at Michigan State University, an NSAC member, has established the Great Lakes Midwest Center with four key partners: the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, the Northwest Indiana Food Council, the Food Finance Institute, and the Menominee Indian Tribe. He will take the lead. partnership of several indigenous tribes). Each of these partners serves to coordinate activities within our service areas of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
“The food policy action council of Chicago is one of the most important cities in the world,” said Roger Cooley, executive director of the Chicago Food Policy Action Council, a member of NSAC.The center will serve small and underserved producers through technical assistance, community food purchasing programs, community food in schools, and ultimately new community food system infrastructure grants. This is a great opportunity to connect them with influential USDA programs and resources. It will soon be available in Illinois. ” Roger went on to share how this initiative is unique compared to other USDA AMS grants, stating: “The five-year commitment is significant. We are hiring talent focused solely on supporting farmers through the larger ecosystem and delivering Business Builder grants directly to producers. Yes, we will be able to use our experience in this work to influence state-level policy in Illinois while learning from other states within the Center.”
Regional Food Business Centers are tasked with providing business technical assistance, capacity-building awards, and coordinating broader regional efforts, taking into account the region's unique agricultural and organizational assets and gaps in the food supply chain. We will implement these initiatives.
For example, the University of California College of Agriculture and Natural Resources was selected as the lead organization for the Southwest Center, which serves California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. While serving a wide range of food and farm businesses in the region, the center primarily serves rural colonial communities and supports socially disadvantaged producers in underserved areas. We will focus particularly on promoting business development for people.
One way the Center leverages existing partnerships and institutional assets to reach this community is by partnering with the Agricultural Land Training Association (ALBA), an NSAC member in the Salinas Valley. For more than 20 years, ALBA has operated an organic farm business incubator, helping Mexican immigrant farm workers and other aspiring farmers transition to independent farm ownership. The incubator farm is located on his 100-acre property in the Salinas Valley. The program is designed to lower the barrier to entry into farming and provides subsidized access to education, technical assistance, farmland, and equipment over five years. With a history of working with Latinx communities, ALBA is uniquely positioned to serve communities in the Colonia border and as a model for other regions through its network of centers. The investment from the Regional Food Business Center will, for the first time, enable ALBA to support the development of other land-based training programs across the center’s footprint.
Impact on the nation
Although it is too early to assess the success of the program in its early implementation stages, selected regional structures and organizations will support community-led efforts to provide business support through already established and trusted technical assistance providers. It shows the great potential of this program. community. Building genuine relationships and lobbying for new initiatives takes considerable time, especially in underserved communities where mistrust of USDA and short-term projects may be common. takes. To address this challenge, USDA has constructed a cooperative agreement that envisions her implementation period of 4 to 5 years. This longer project duration allows organizations to hire dedicated staff, increases the amount of time companies are involved with the center, and increases the opportunity to provide technical assistance.
Regional Food Business Centers provide an opportunity to leverage an organization's existing assets and combine outreach and technical assistance with the Business Builder Award. USDA will invest $400 million across the center, with some of this funding going directly to food and farm companies to build capacity to participate in regional food value chains. With support from USDA staff, each center will develop a sustainability plan to ensure this effort scales beyond federal funding. Undoubtedly, through partnerships and business development, the Center will foster economic development opportunities nationwide.
The Farm Bill’s lasting impact
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, USDA has responded to market and supply chain disruptions that have exposed families and farmers to food insecurity and unprecedented loss of income. Last year, USDA announced the Food System Transformation Framework, which invests in strengthening food system essentials, building resilience, promoting competition, and creating economic opportunities for small and medium-sized producers.
These USDA initiatives addressed unique challenges along the supply chain, from production to processing, workforce development, distribution, and market development, but these investments complement each other and improve the overall supply chain. and built real resilience. The overarching goals are:
- Building more resilient food supply chains while reducing carbon pollution.
- Creating fairer markets through competition and increasing market access for small producers.
- Make nutritious foods readily available at affordable prices.and
- We do everything in an equitable way, ensuring investment reaches even the most remote and underserved areas.
The Farm Bill provides a pathway to advance the goals of the Food System Transformation Network, which includes Regional Food Business Centers. The 2023 Farm Bill should:
- Continuing historic investments beyond the one-time funding injection of the American Rescue Plan Act to ensure continued network and value chain development beyond the life of the initial cooperative agreement.
- Prioritize funding of agreements in an equitable manner and provide investments to underserved producers, businesses and communities.
- We will focus on community-driven centers with small geographic areas and sufficient geographic coverage to enable continuous coordination between trusted partners and networks.
- We will continue to focus on partnerships with multiple organizations and organization types that have a proven track record of work within the community and can easily deploy technical assistance and funding for business development.
- Requires USDA to submit to Congress a report evaluating the extent, nature, and effectiveness of the Center's involvement with underserved producers and to make publicly available the data on which the report is based.