April 19, 2018
Now that the new federal food safety requirements have finally been finalized for produce farmers and food processors, there is a critical need for targeted food safety training and outreach to get American producers and processors prepared for compliance with these new regulations. As part of its passage of the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Congress also authorized the development of a brand-new competitive grants program – the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) – dedicated to providing training resources to farmers.
This year, USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has issued a Request for Applications (RFA) that will provide nearly $6.6 million in funding, roughly half of which will be reserved for maintaining the Regional Centers for Food Safety Training.
FSOP received its initial round of funding in fiscal year (FY) 2015, thanks in large part to the advocacy of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) and our member organizations. The 2015 funding was used to develop a National Coordination Center and four Regional Centers for FSMA Training. As a result of NSAC’s successful advocacy campaign, Congress provided a 100 percent increase in FSOP funding for FY 2016 which NSAC also helped to secure again in FY 2017. During our FY 2018 appropriations advocacy campaign, we again secured a modest increase for the program, bringing total program funding up to $7 million.
As part of NSAC’s Farm Bill campaign, we have advocated for needed investments and important policy changes to be made to the program in the next farm bill – key examples are included in the bipartisan and bicameral Local FARMS Act. Unfortunately, the version of the Farm Bill that was recently passed out of the House Agriculture Committee did not provide mandatory funding for the program, nor make any policy changes that would ultimately improve the effectiveness of the program. Instead, the House Committee’s bill merely allows the program to continue operating, assuming funds can continue to be won through the appropriations process – a task that has become far from a sure thing in the current fiscal climate.
Moreover, during the House Agriculture Committee’s markup of their draft bill, an amendment was accepted that would do away with the current three-year limitation on funding for any one project awardee. This provision raises significant concerns that FSOP funding could become tied up by repeat applicants who have the most resources or capacity to apply, ultimately limiting the program’s scope and ability to serve producer and processor populations equitably. NSAC will continue to advocate for improvements to this program throughout the Farm Bill process to ensure that funding remains available for projects representing a diversity of geographic regions and applicant types.
This year’s RFA provides over $3 million in funding for Regional Centers for Food Safety Training, and also modifies the expected role of the Regional Centers by requiring an implementation plan be put in place to extend technical assistance to producers. According to the RFA, the Regional Centers must: (1) include collaborations with non-governmental and community-based organizations, and (2) address efforts to develop and modify food safety training curricula, including by providing review of and technical assistance to pilot and community outreach projects awarded in their region.
NSAC strongly supports the meaningful inclusion of community partners into the Regional Centers’ outreach and technical assistance plans. In order to facilitative true collaboration between local partners and the Regional Centers, tangible resources for local partners must also be included. In total, $3.4 million is set aside for the Regional Centers; this funding includes one Lead Regional Center that will coordinate the others, presumably taking the place of the existing National Coordination Center.
The remaining FSOP funding will go toward on-the-ground outreach and education projects with a focus on funding for local communities, community-based organizations, non-governmental organizations, and other local groups. These projects might include efforts to modify and expand existing training and technical assistance programs (“Community Outreach Projects”), or develop new food safety outreach and education programs for underserved or small, specialized audiences whose education needs have not been adequately addressed (“Pilot Projects”).
Applications for FSOP grants are due by June 7, 2018
According to the RFA, new FY 2018 projects should focus on (though are not limited to) providing training and/or technical assistance that addresses knowledge and resource gaps for the target audience in the areas of pre- and post-harvest water testing and sampling, soil amendments, developing supply chain programs, and/or developing food safety plans. NIFA also encourages projects that address bilingual and culturally sensitive training resources.
Successful applicants will be expected to report to and coordinate their activities with the Regional Centers for FSMA Training.
Awards between $25,000 and $75,000 will be made available for up to 13 Pilot Projects.
Pilots projects will:
Where needed, Regional Centers will provide support and assistance for Pilot Project teams by aiding in the development of mechanisms for reporting program outcomes and providing food safety technical assistance.
Awards between $80,000 and $150,000 will be made available for Community Outreach Projects that:
Community Outreach Projects should be led by project teams who demonstrate a record of developing and maintaining community partnerships and working successfully to serve the educational needs of target audiences.
Technically, non-governmental and community-based organizations that apply to FSOP are required to provide a 100 percent match (cash or in-kind) in order to receive federal funding. However, NIFA is authorized to waive the match requirement for these entities because the activities proposed to be carried out under this RFA are consistent with the existing National Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEEAB) priority of food safety extension activities. In order to qualify for the exemption, proposals need to include a justification in their budget narrative. An example of such a justification can be as simple as stating: “we propose that NIFA grant us a waiver form the match requirement because it is consistent the NAREEEAB food safety priority.”
If you will not be part of an application, but do have experience in farmer or small business food safety training and education efforts, consider serving as a peer reviewer for this grant panel! Interested panelists can send their resume to Jodi Williams, NIFA National Program Leader for Food Safety: firstname.lastname@example.org
For additional application details and requirements, see the RFA.
NIFA will be hosting a webinar where potential applicants can ask questions on Thursday May 3 at 11 am ET. Details and registration information here.
You can also learn more about FSOP through NSAC’s Grassroots Guide to the Farm Bill.