NSAC's Blog


USDA Invests in Tribal Food Business Development

September 27, 2016


Popcorn produced by Lakota Native Americans. Photo Credit: USDA

Popcorn produced by Lakota Native Americans. Photo Credit: USDA

Small rural businesses are vital to growing and sustaining rural jobs and economies, but starting and growing them isn’t easy. That’s why the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) operates the Rural Business Development Grant Program (RBDG), which awards grants on a competitive basis to support the development and growth of rural small and emerging businesses with fewer than 50 employees and less than $1 million in gross revenues.

This week, USDA awarded $3.8 million to 28 Indian tribes, nonprofit organizations, and other entities to assist businesses and individuals in tribal communities with business planning, operational improvements, and job training as well as acquisition of land, capital, and equipment. Of the 28 projects, at least six included a specific focus on food and agriculture.

We are pleased to report that the Center for Rural Affairs, a Nebraska-based member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), received a $198,431 award to expand sales for food, art and other small businesses in the Santee Sioux and Omaha Native American communities. The Center will provide production and business training for small home-based businesses, focusing primarily on food production and art businesses. The project will create a local food distribution program, a monthly art market in each community, video training resources, and a pilot a fruit production training program.

Other local food projects of note include:

  • San Xavier Cooperative Association (AZ)
    $332,433
    To build a cold storage facility and provide technical assistance to local farmers, businesses and consumers.
  • Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians (ND)
    $103,994
    To provide technical assistance and entrepreneurship training for a local foods initiative.
  • Healthy Futures, Inc. (NM)
    $46,185
    To provide business management training to Native American and non-Native American small farmers and other small and emerging businesses.
  • Seminole Nation of Oklahoma (OK)
    $200,000
    To purchase equipment and renovate a commercial kitchen and retail area to be leased to Tribal members and small businesses primarily involved in growing grapes.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement earlier this week while at the 8th Annual White House Tribal Nations Conference, where President Obama also spoke.

Background and Appropriations

RBDG was created in the 2014 Farm Bill and replaces two previous grant programs – Rural Business Enterprise Grants (RBEG) and Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG).

Under the 2014 Farm Bill, RBDG was authorized to receive up to $65 million in discretionary funding per year over five years. As a discretionary program, the funding level for RBDG is determined each year by Congress in the annual agricultural appropriations bill.

Congress is currently negotiating final funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2017, and is expected to pass a funding package in December. Both the House and the Senate Appropriations Committees have passed individual FY 2017 appropriations bills providing funding for RBDG and other USDA programs. The House agriculture appropriations bill provides $35 million for RBDG, a 46 percent increase over last year’s level of $24 million. The Senate bill includes no such increase. Ahead of final negotiations culminating in December, NSAC will be urging congressional appropriators to adopt the House level.


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Rural Development


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