NSAC's Blog

$15 million Now Available to Support Regional Food Economy Development Projects

May 20, 2021

A farmer harvesting sweet potatoes. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.

On May 5, 2021 USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the availability of $15.3 million in funding for the second ever Request for Applications (RFA) for the Regional Food Systems Partnership (RFSP) Program. RFSP is a new program that supports foodshed-level approaches to developing regional food economies.

RFSP was launched in the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the creation of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). The partnership program concept was developed and championed by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) in concert with Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), as part of our broader effort to expand opportunities for local and regional food systems in the 2018 Farm Bill.

LAMP serves as an umbrella program that partially combines and streamlines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG) while also creating the new RFSP program.  

The $15.3 million available in this RFA, includes $5 million in mandatory farm bill funding and another $10 million that was provided by Congress through the emergency appropriations bill in the Emergency Coronavirus Relief Act of 2020. 

The deadline to apply for the RFSP program is before 11:59 pm Eastern Time on July 6, 2021 and all submissions must be done through grants.gov.

In the context of the ongoing pandemic and its impact on local and regional food systems and the additional funding provided by Congress, there are a couple of important changes to the RFA, when compared to the previous fiscal year.  The most important change is to the matching funds or cost-share requirements. As a result please be sure to read through the blog and the RFA closely before applying 

For more information about grant eligibility, the applications process and frequently asked questions visit the AMS RFSP page. To see examples of awarded projects funded in FY 2020, the inaugural round of funding for the program, click here. 

Reduced Cost-Share Requirements

The increased pool of funding available for RFSP grants is the direct result of actions taken by Congress to provide increased funding for communities and farmers to respond to the COVID pandemic and begin rebuilding markets and supply chains. In addition to increased funding, Congress also reduced the cost-share funding requirements for the RFSP program from 25% to 10%. However, due to some legal complexities related to the sources of funding, the cost-share reduction does not apply uniformly to the full amount of funding available this year. 

For $10.3 million of the available funding, there is a reduced minimum 10% cost-share requirement for which all of the match may be cash or in-kind resources, while the remainder of the funding, $5 million, is available with the standard minimum 25% cash-only cost-share requirement. Applicants have the choice of submitting an application with a 10% or 25% match but may not submit the same application with the same objectives to both options. 

NSAC encourages prospective applicants to think about this option to submit at the 10% or 25% match level as something akin to a sliding scale system. Applying for the grant with a 25% matching funds option for those organizations with greater resources is a way in which those organizations can concretely help to support more equitable outcomes within the program by making more funding available to those organizations and communities with greater need and fewer resources.  

All applicants are highly encouraged to read the RFAs in its entirety before applying.

Program Details

Administered by the USDA’s AMS, the RFSP program provides competitive grant funding to support multi-stakeholder partnerships and encourage “foodshed-level” approaches to planning and developing local and regional food economies.

The partnership program’s focus on facilitating the development of public-private partnerships is conceptually based on the largely successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The basic concept is to use federal resources to leverage private investment and encourage “food-shed” level approaches to planning and developing regional food economies through the formation of multi-stakeholder partnerships and on-the-ground projects. The 2018 Farm Bill provides the new program with broad authority regarding the way in which a public-private partnership might facilitate the development of a local or regional food economy.

RFSP is intended to broadly support the:

  • Development of business plans, feasibility studies and strategies for local and regional marketing opportunities and local and regional food systems infrastructure development;
  • Development of regional food systems and improved healthy food access through community collaboration and expansion of food hubs, mid-tier value chains, and other similar types of business ventures; and
  • Economic opportunities for producers and food businesses through job creation.

What is a Region?

With a focus on regional food systems, the new program RFA does not actually define “region” or “regional”. The RFA allows for multi-state regions (i.e. New England), multi-county regions (i.e. “southern Illinois”) and Major Metropolitan regions that may or may not encompass multiple states (i.e. Chicago, Denver, or Sacramento). Partnerships applying to the RFSP program are responsible for and empowered to determine and define the size and scope of the region appropriate for their project. The new program provides potential partnerships with broad authority to develop not only the geographic size and scope of the project, but the objectives, activities, and goals of a project as well.

Partnerships are expected to:

  • Have a diversity of financial and technical resources and capabilities;
  • Have a demonstrated capacity to work collaboratively with public and private entities across sectors of the food and farm systems; and
  • Present innovative, sustainable and measurable approaches to achieving the project’s’ goals, and objectives.

Eligible Applicants

Being a partnership program, applicants must consist of multiple entities and organizations. This program is not intended for projects conducted by single organizations with several collaborators, but rather for multi-sector partnerships of organizations coming together on more or less equal footing to execute multi-faceted projects. A partnership is an agreement between one or more eligible entities and one more eligible partner.

Partnerships that include “Limited Resource Entities” are strongly encouraged to apply. AMS defines “Limited Resource Entities” as any organization that provides technical assistance services to and engages historically underserved farmers and ranchers in addressing their needs. See USDA definition of Historically Underserved Groups for further information.

Eligible Partners include:

  • State Agencies or Regional Authorities
  • Philanthropic Corporations
  • Institutions of Higher Education
  • Commercial, Federal or Farm Credit System Lending Institutions
  • Private Corporations 

Eligible Entities include:

  • Individual producers
  • Farmer or rancher cooperatives, producer networks or associations
  • Majority-controlled producer based business ventures
  • Food Councils (a.k.a food policy council)
  • Community Supported Agriculture Networks or Associations
  • Local Governments
  • Nonprofit Corporations
  • Public Benefit Corporations
  • Economic Development Corporations
  • Regional Farmers Market Authorities
  • Tribal Governments

All applicants must be domestic entities owned, operated and located within the fifty U.S. States, the District of Columbia, Tribal Governments, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the United States Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands.

For more detailed information on eligible entities and partners please read the FY 2021 RFA.

Project Details

The RFA allows for two types of projects: 1) Planning and Design projects and 2) Implementation and Expansion projects.

Planning and Design projects are meant to support partnerships that are in the early stages of convening and planning for the development of a robust local or regional food system. Planning and Design projects are expected to last no longer than 24 months and start by October 31, 2021. The minimum award amount for a Planning and Design project is $100,000 and the maximum is $250,000.

Implementation and Expansion projects are meant to support partnerships building on prior or ongoing efforts within a local or regional food system. Implementation and Expansion project grants are not intended for new emerging efforts to build a local food system where one does not exist, but rather to support regions with burgeoning local or regional food economies that have the potential to scale up and expand with coordinated public-private investments and activities. Implementation and Expansion projects are expected to start on October 31, 2021 and last no longer than 36 months. The minimum award amount for Implementation and Expansion projects is $250,000 and the maximum is $1,000,000.

For more information on eligible and ineligible project activities for both types of projects please read FY 2021 RFA.

Peer Review Panels

Every year, USDA seeks members of the public to serve on their grant peer review panels. The peer review panels help USDA review grant applications and recommend which projects should receive funding. Grant reviewers, typically people with academic, non-profit, and/or on the ground agriculture-related experience, help to ensure that the projects funded advance the goals of the program. 

If you are interested in being part of this process and bringing your sustainable agriculture knowledge to the reviewers’ table, please consider volunteering for a RFSP program peer review panel. AMS’s peer reviewer application sign-up portal can be found here. If your organization is not planning to apply or in the end does not submit an application, please consider signing up to be a peer reviewer. 

Categories: General Interest, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling, Nutrition & Food Access

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