January 13, 2017
Over the past decade, the growth in local and regional food systems has been tremendous: farmers markets have shot up by 180 percent, regional food hubs have expanded by 288 percent, and school district participation in farm to school programs has increased by 430 percent. These systems are fast becoming an important staple of the agricultural economy. Local and regional markets provide livelihoods for smaller-scale producers, as well as access to fresh and healthy foods for consumers.
On Wednesday, January 11, 2017, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of over $27 million in grant funding to support the continued growth of this important sector.
AMS will provide over $26 million in grant funding to strengthen local and regional food systems through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and $1 million in grant funding through the Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program (FSMIP).
In the same announcement, USDA also introduced a new report by AMS, which analyzes the investments and impacts made by the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), the predecessor to FMLFPP, over its first 10 years.
Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program
FMLFPP provides grants on a competitive basis for a wide spectrum of direct-to-consumer and local food marketing projects. This latest funding opportunity will mark the third round of FMLFPP grant funding made available through the 2014 Farm Bill. FMLFPP and its predecessor program, FMPP, are programs that the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) has championed for over a decade.
The 2014 Farm Bill provides $30 million per year in mandatory funding for FMLFPP, which is distributed as competitive grants through two subprograms: FMPP, which provides direct marketing grants, and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), which provides local and regional food marketing grants. Funding is divided equally between the subprograms.
The FMPP subprogram supports projects such as farmers markets, CSA programs, roadside stands, pick-your own operations and agritourism. LFPP’s focus is on processing, distribution, aggregation, storage and marketing of locally or regionally produced food products sold through intermediated marketing channels.
Applications for both FMPP and LFPP must be submitted electronically through www.grants.gov by 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on March 27, 2017.
Applicants may submit project proposals for both FMPP and LFPP. If selected for both awards, applicants may accept one FMPP and one LFPP award under the FY 2017 RFA.
To see examples of FY 2016 FMLFPP projects click here.
Changes in FY 2017
As part of every FMLFPP grant cycle, AMS asks for stakeholder feedback on their Request for Application (RFA) form so that they can continue to improve the RFA and better tailor it to the needs of applicants. As part of that process, NSAC submits recommendations to AMS developed from discussions with our member organizations and their networks.
The FY 2017 RFAs for both FMPP and LFPP include a number of NSAC’s recommendations, as well as several other notable changes.
In our comments on the FY 2016 RFAs, we expressed concern that certain important activities and project types seemed to be excluded from the RFAs’ definitions of “eligible activities.” For example, the RFA for LFPP did not allow marketing grants, and the RFA for FMPP did not allow anything that isn’t considered “farm direct.”
This interpretation of farm direct suggested that AMS was viewing farm sales made directly to grocers and restaurants as “intermediated sales,” and not as direct marketing. This would exclude initiatives like Buy Fresh, Buy Local Chapters or Rogue Valley Grown in Oregon that promote identity-preserved and local and regional products through signage and menu inserts at restaurants, special events featuring local products at restaurants, and special marketing displays in local groceries. However, in the minds of many producers, some state laws, and even within FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act Produce Rule, farm sales made directly to local groceries and restaurants are considered direct marketing sales.
In order to clarify the eligibility of these important direct marketing channels, NSAC recommended that AMS “clarify that activities and projects that promote the increased domestic consumption of local or regionally produced identity-preserved products in restaurants and grocery stores are eligible projects.”
For FY 2017, AMS made a small, but important, change in acknowledgement of this recommendation. The FY 2017 RFA for FMPP now includes a new definition of “direct-to-consumer market opportunities”, which will help provide additional clarity:
Direct producer-to-consumer market opportunities are instances in which producers sell locally or regionally produced agricultural products directly to the consumer with minimal involvement with a middle-man such as an intermediary, a wholesaler, a retailer, an agent, a broker, or a reseller.
The definition allows for some limited involvement by a middle-man, which may include restaurants, grocery stores, and other intermediaries.
Another notable change in the RFA is the removal of the “Performance Measures” section. NSAC had previously heard from a number of stakeholders and allies that the outcomes, indicators, and performance reporting requirements for FMPP and LFPP were confusing and frustrating. In response, NSAC supported efforts by AMS to develop streamlined metrics for FMLFPP that could be used to demonstrate impacts and measure the efficiency of projects, and recommended in our FY 2016 comments that improvements be made to the associated guidance and rationale. Rather than include detailed guidance to help applicants navigate the Performance Measures section, however, AMS decided to drop it altogether. Performance measurement and reporting is an important component of any federal program, and we will continue to offer our assistance to AMS in developing a robust yet workable set of metrics for grantees.
AMS did not adopt our recommendations related to when and how it gives priority consideration and assigns priority points to project proposals. The FY 2016 RFAs give priority consideration to projects that benefit communities located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to supermarkets, and to projects that involve Promise Zone Lead Applicant Organizations. Ten percent of the funding in both FMPP and LFPP is set aside for these priority projects; both the FMPP and LFPP RFAs also give five priority points to applications that involve Promise Zone Lead Applicant organizations.
While we support the prioritization of projects located in these areas, we oppose AMS’ decision to allow a very limited number of mapping tools to be used to identify priority areas. Specifically, we would like to see community food assessments developed under the USDA Community Food Projects grant program, assessments done by or in concert with extension professionals, and data used by the USDA Strikeforce Initiative added to the allowable data sets and tools.
By limiting the awarding of priority points exclusively to applications that involve Promise Zones, which are necessarily located in larger urban areas, the RFA disadvantages rural communities. The next set of RFAs should allow the awarding of priority points for both Promise Zones and Strike Force areas.
Farmers Market Promotion Program
FMPP offers two distinct types of grants: Capacity Building and Community Development, and Training and Technical Assistance Projects. For Capacity Building projects, the minimum award is $50,000 and the maximum award is $250,000. For Community Development, Training and Technical Assistance projects the minimum grant award is $250,000 and maximum award level is $500,000. There is no matching requirement for the FMPP subprogram.
The award period duration for both FMPP Capacity Building projects and Community Development, Training and Technical Assistance projects is 36 months.
More information about applying for FMPP, including the 2017 RFA, is available through the AMS website.
Local Food Promotion Program
LFPP offers Planning Grants and Implementation Grants. For planning projects, the minimum is $25,000 and the maximum $100,000. For Implementation projects, the minimum is $100,000 and the maximum $500,000.
Unlike FMPP, LFPP does require a 25 percent cash or in-kind match. Unfortunately, the 2017 RFA does not include NSAC’s recommendation that the 25 percent cash or in-kind matching requirement be tied to the total grant amount rather than the total project cost.
Planning projects grants are for up to 18 months, and are expected to begin on September 30, 2017 and be completed by March 2019. Implementation projects can be awarded for up to 36 months, and are expected to begin on September 30, 2017 and be completed by September 29, 2020.
Federal-State Marketing Improvement Program
FSMIP provides about $1 million in matching funds to state departments of agriculture, state colleges and universities, and other appropriate state agencies.
FSMIP is a small competitive grants program that is designed to assist states with exploring new market opportunities through research and innovation. While only state agencies and institutions are eligible for grant awards, FSMIP funds can be used to conduct research projects in collaboration with non-profit organizations, community, or producer groups that solve practical marketing problems, including those facing small and medium-scale farmers.
Learn more about how to apply for FSMIP here.
Farmers Market Promotion Program Report
In addition to announcing funding for FMLFPP and FSMIP this week, AMS also announced the publication of a new report chronicling the history and impact of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (as noted above, FMPP was expanded in the 2014 Farm Bill and then became the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program).
Since FY 2008, FMPP has received over 2,700 applications and has awarded 879 grants for over $58 million. The average acceptance rate between FY 2008 and FY 2015 was only 33 percent.
The vast majority of both applications received and applications awarded during the analysis period were projects from nonprofit organizations and agricultural or producer groups. Awards were also fairly geographically concentrated during this period, with the western region of the country receiving the largest share of funding (over $12 million), and the southeast receiving the second-highest level of funding ($10.6 million).
In addition to a statistical analysis of the program, the report includes a number of profiles of noteworthy projects that have contributed to the continued growth of and interest in local and regional food. Among the projects profiled was a 2008 project conducted by NSAC members Michigan Food and Farming Systems and the Michigan Farmers Market Association. This project was designed to increase the number of farmers markets accepting SNAP EBT, and developed one of the first ever market manager certification programs (launched in 2011). Roughly 150 market managers in Michigan and Illinois have since been trained and certified through the program.
Webinars and Additional Information
In order to help prospective applicants navigate the process for applying for FMLFPP, AMS will host a webinar on Wednesday, February 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm ET and a teleconference on applying to FSMIP on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at 2:30 pm ET. A sign up link for the FMLFPP webinar on February 15, can be found here.
Sign up links for the FSMIP teleconference is not yet available, but for more information about FSMIP, FMPP and LFPP, you can visit: www.ams.usda.gov/AMSgrants.
AMS has also created a new guide, “What AMS Grant is Right for Me?”, which can help applicants determine which AMS grant best fits their project.