October 14, 2020
Local food systems and direct-to-consumer marketing through farmers markets, farm stands, and Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) programs have flourished across the country over the past several decades. Once viewed as a fad or niche part of the food sector, local food systems and direct marketing agriculture are now an integral part of American agriculture and food producing communities, from Lincoln Nebraska to Portland Maine.
The important work of connecting farmers and ranchers to local/regional consumers and markets has been in part driven by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) competitive grant the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP). FMLFPP funds direct-to-consumer marketing strategies and also provides support for local and regional food business enterprises (such as food hubs) acting as intermediaries between producers and consumers.
Last week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) awarded $27 million in grant funding to support 93 local food projects for fiscal year (FY) 2020.
FMLFPP actually consists of two subprograms: the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), each awarded $13.5 million. Last week’s announcement included 49 FMPP awards and 44 LFPP awards. FMPP supports projects such as farmers markets, community supported agriculture (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.
With local food and direct-to-consumer marketing becoming an established part of the agriculture landscape, “local food” doesn’t conjure the same sense of cutting edge trend it once enjoyed, however, a review of the fiscal year 2020 funding cycle for FMLFPP reveals sustained interest in the economic and community development power of local food systems and direct-to-consumer agriculture.
For the FY 2020 cycle AMS made $27 million available for FMPP and LFPP grants, an increase of $3.5 million when compared to FY 2019. NSAC championed this funding and worked with Congressional appropriators to provide increased funding for the program.
|Grant Type||Apps Received||Amount Requested||Match Amount||Funded Apps||Amount of Awards|
|Community Development, Training, and Technical Assistance||60||$23,822,749||$5,966,019||17||$7,350,950|
|Grant Type||Apps |
|Amount Requested||Match Amount||Funded Apps||Amount of Awards|
After duplicate and incomplete applications were taken into consideration for the FY 2020 round of funding, AMS received 164 FMPP applications requesting $44.8 million in grant funding. With only $13.5 million available AMS was able to fund approximately 29% of the FMPP projects that applied for funding. In comparison, in the previous cycle (FY 2019), AMS received 182 applications and was able to fund 27% of the applications. For LFPP, AMS also had $13.5 million in funding for grants and received 186 complete applications requesting approximately $53.9 million in grant funding, AMS was able to fund 23% of the applications. In the previous grant cycle AMS received 216 LFPP applications and was able to fund 19% of the applications.
The increased funding for FMLFPP, provided by the annual appropriations process, allowed AMS to fund a slightly higher percentage of applications in FY 2020. However, the fact that the agency is able to fund only roughly a quarter of all applications speaks to the overwhelming demand for the program and the importance of increasing total program funding in future years.
By law FMPP and LFPP must prioritize applications that “benefit underserved communities, including communities that are located in areas of concentrated poverty with limited access to fresh locally or regionally grown food.” While this does not exclusively prioritize or target resources to black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities and producers, it has helped to advance racial equity and allocate resources to projects focused on serving BIPOC producers and communities. Based on NSAC’s analysis approximately $4 million of the FMPP funding (39%), and $2.3 million of the LFPP funding (17%) went to projects that were led by BIPOC organizations or are primarily focused on serving BIPOC producers and communities. It’s highly likely that BIPOC producers and communities will also benefit from a number of the other funded projects, however those are not included in this analysis as they are projects that are not primarily focused on BIPOC producers and communities.
The steady demand for both FMPP and LFPP is occurring in parallel with the inaugural round of funding for the Regional Food Systems Partnership Program (RFSP), which made an additional $9.3 million available in grant funding for public-private partnerships focused on local and regional food systems development. The steady interest in FMPP and LFPP, even as organizations struggled to deal with the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, and demand for the new RFSP shows the staying power of local and regional food systems. It likely also shows that RFSP is meeting unmet demand and not supplanting FMPP or LFPP.
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is pleased to report that ten of our member organizations received FMLFPP grants this cycle.
Community Alliance with Family Farmers, California – received $249,875 for it’s new Farm-to-Market Tech Hub, empowering more farm-direct purchasing with tech-based solutions. The Tech Hub will provide free resources and consulting for California family farms and related local food businesses such as farmers markets and food hubs to help them pivot to sales models better suited to the current COVID crisis as well as longer-term consumer purchasing trends. From software and online education to direct on-one consulting, the Hub aims to help smaller producers compete with bigger, corporate food ventures that have already invested millions into ecommerce. By helping farmers leverage new online tools as well as cooperative solutions, local food purchasing will become more convenient, accessible and competitive.
“We watched as COVID-19 disrupted markets across the nation, leaving many small businesses scrambling to adapt. But we also realize that many of these same emergency adaptations, e-commerce tools and strategies in particular, will help farms compete long after the pandemic is behind us. That’s why we at CAFF are thrilled to receive an FMLFPP grant to help us establish a brand new program designed to help small family farms sell and market their goods online, allowing local food to keep up in the tech-driven twenty-first century.”
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA), Massachusetts – received a $500,000 to support the project, “Outreach, training, and technical assistance to expand Massachusetts’ direct producer-to-consumer markets during and after the pandemic.” This project is a collaboration of a network of “Buy Local” agricultural nonprofits: Berkshire Grown (BG), Cape Cod Buy Local Buy Fresh (CCBLBF), Central Mass Grown (CMG), Northeast Harvest (NEH), Southeastern MA Agricultural Partnership (SEMAP), and the Sustainable Business Network of Greater Boston (SBN). The project will assist the state’s direct-market farmers in adjusting to changing safety requirements, market options, and consumer demand during and post COVID-19.
“CISA is excited to receive funding through USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program,” said Kelly Coleman, Program Director. “COVID-19 created huge market disruptions for local farmers—with some markets disappearing and new market options popping up overnight. This funding will help Massachusetts farmers assess and invest in market channels and marketing strategies to maintain new COVID-related consumers and to reach broader consumer audiences with fresh, healthy, and local food and agricultural products.”
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association (CFSA), North and South Carolina – received $325,605 to support the project “Building Resiliency to Changes in Market Conditions.” COVID-19 has disrupted market conditions for North and South Carolina’s farmers, especially small-scale, historically underserved farms. The project will help farmers implement innovative solutions to changing market conditions by providing technical assistance on market access, produce safety, season extension, and organic production and certification in order to increase their revenue from local, direct-to-consumer sales.
“CFSA is grateful to have received funding through the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program,” said Karen McSwain, CFSA’s Associate Executive Director for Programs. “Our project will provide historically underserved farmers with the support they need to successfully navigate current market conditions caused by COVID-19 and beyond. There has never been a better time to invest in the resiliency of the local food economy.”
Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT) – received $498,618.51 to support the project, “Supporting Direct Markets as the Backbone of Vermont’s Food System.” The project will support the viability and sustainability of Vermont farms by providing a holistic suite of business and marketing services for direct market farmers and farmers markets and raising awareness about direct sales among consumers. NOFA-VT will accomplish this by conducting a statewide marketing campaign and providing in-depth technical assistance, trainings/workshops, and resources to direct market farms and farmers markets to strengthen their business and marketing skills.
“NOFA-VT is thrilled to receive funding to continue our support of direct market farmers and farmers markets across the state,” said Jennie Porter, Market Development Manager for NOFA-VT. “Research has shown that direct markets increase the sustainability of farms and that direct relationships are a key competitive advantage farmers have in a maturing local food marketplace As such, we are committed to developing critical business and marketing skills of farmers and farmers market leaders to help them compete and capitalize on evolving consumer values.”
The National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Montana – received $455,400 to support its work on capacity building for Montana’s farmers markets. “Sustaining Farmers Market Success” will build on NCAT’s previous work with markets in Montana through creating a farmer’s market and vendor support program, developing a farmer’s market impact report, and increasing the number of local food access points that accept SNAP, including farm stands and CSA farms. By developing a Montana specific farmer’s market toolkit, piloting a farmer’s market cost share program and formalizing peer mentoring, NCAT and its partners will provide Montana markets with tools and opportunities to strengthen their position in an increasingly competitive marketplace.
“We are excited to build on our work with Montana’s farmers markets and small farms for this project,” says Tammy Howard, NCAT agriculture specialist and Sustaining Farmers Market Success project manager. “In light of the pandemic, this network is more important than ever to help farmers markets learn from each other and to support market vendors in sustaining and strengthening their businesses. This project is strengthened through our state and national partners and with them we will create comprehensive tools, resources and technical assistance.”
Rural Advancement Foundation International, North Carolina – received $410,606 to support the project, “Alternative Market Technical Assistance for Direct Marketing Farmers.” This project will address the barriers faced by direct-to-consumer farmers, particularly farmers of color, as they make necessary shifts in the markets they serve to support the viability of their business. RAFI-USA will help strengthen local and regional producer-to-consumer markets by providing technical support to farmers markets and market vendors to access online sales platforms, creating mutually beneficial purchasing relationships between farmers and faith communities, and coordinating collaborative food distribution initiatives.
“We are excited to begin supporting farmers through the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program. Since the start of COVID-19 we have seen that direct marketing farmers in our network are accessing new market channels beyond farmers markets and farmstands. They’re collaborating with producers on distribution models and finding new potential customers within their own communities. This project will support these types of alternative market solutions that allow farmers to adapt, overcome challenges, and remain resilient and viable,” said Edna Rodriguez, Executive Director of RAFI-USA.
Practical Farmers of Iowa – received $66,958 to support the development of a feasibility study and business plan for a Iowa-based farmer-led pasture-raised meat company that will source from 40+ regenerative livestock farms in Iowa. The business model developed will contribute to farm profitability, thriving communities, and nourish Iowans with local food.
“USDA funding will help turn farmers’ ideas into reality! A critical mass of like-minded, regenerative livestock farmers exists in Iowa, and they’re ready to work together on something larger than is achievable as individuals. Marketing is their largest obstacle; either spending the majority of their energy direct marketing under their own brands or undercutting themselves by selling livestock at conventional auctions in order to avoid marketing altogether. A middle ground exists, and this project aims to conceive a viable business plan in order to develop a pasture-raised, Iowa-based meat company while developing farmers to be market-savvy entrepreneurs, ” explains Meghan Filbert, livestock program manager at Practical Farmers of Iowa.
The Wallace Center at Winrock International – received a $499,956 grant to support the “Forging Value Chains” project. This national project aims to increase the capacity of small/mid-size farms and local and regional food businesses to: 1) create collaborative value chain relationships for better market opportunities; 2) navigate wholesale marketing channels successfully for improved financial viability; and 3) adopt and implement a culture of quality and food safety for increased market access. Wallace aims to increase the capacity of over 4,500 individuals who work in and support farms and regional food businesses, resulting in more profitable and competitive regional value chains, increased adoption of Quality Management Systems, and increased utilization of the USDA GroupGAP program.
“Our team is so grateful to receive this LFPP award so we can continue to offer skill-building resources, technical trainings, and peer learning opportunities that support the expansion and resilience of equitable regional value chains,” said Susan Lightfoot Schempf, Associate Director of the Wallace Center. “With this funding, we will be able to significantly strengthen and scale up our technical assistance and training efforts via the Food Systems Leadership Network around value chain coordination, quality management, and food safety. We’re looking forward to working with partners and getting rolling with the project.”
Pinnacle Prevention, Arizona – in collaboration with Sun Produce Cooperative and Pivot Produce, received a $500,000 grant to support the project “Scaling Regional Food Solutions for Arizonans”. Sun Produce Cooperative and Pivot Produce, serving as an intermediary mid-tier value chain collaboration under fiscal agent Pinnacle Prevention, will address critical expansion needs and barriers by implementing cost effective and streamlined transportation chains under this project. This will include expanding and cultivating new online marketing channels to improve operational efficiencies for the Arizona regional network of on-farm agriculture producers. The goals of this project are to increase access to local food and to expand food system infrastructure and operational coordination across the central and southern regions of the state to meet needs and demand.
“Pinnacle Prevention is thrilled to support the amazing work of Arizona farmers through this collaboration with Sun Produce Cooperative and Pivot Produce made possible through USDA’s Local Food Promotion Program, “ said Adrienne Udarbe, Pinnacle Prevention Executive Director. “This funding is critical for streamlining transportation and distribution efficiencies amid increased demands for local foods. This is especially timely in scaling solutions in response to COVID-19 stresses and uncertainties so that we can shift Arizona’s food system and social norms to better support the livelihood of small farmers and increase access to diversified purchasing mechanisms to expand access to healthy local foods.”
The National Center for Frontier Communities, New Mexico – received $323,828 for a project to create a year‐round, aggregated CSA which will provide a large, flexible market outlet capable of incorporating produce from new and existing producers. The CSA project will reach remote communities in southwest New Mexico and beyond and will allow low-income shoppers to utilize SNAP benefits and purchase local food boxes year round.
“NCFC is excited to receive funding for this LFPP project,” says Ben Rasmussen, NCFC Program Manager. “This project will allow us to further innovate our frontier food system and increase farm based revenue for dozens of growers and provide year round access to fresh fruits and vegetables for those in the most remote communities across the region. We hope to be able to replicate this program’s successes in other frontier communities across the country.”
FMLFPP is an expanded version of the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), a competitive grants program originally authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill with the aim of increasing and strengthening direct producer-to-consumer marketing channels. The 2014 Farm Bill expanded FMPP into FMLFPP to include local and regional food business enterprises that act as intermediaries between producers and consumers by aggregating, storing, processing, and/or distributing locally or regionally produced food products to meet market demand.
The 2018 Farm Bill reauthorized FMLFPP as part of a new umbrella program called the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a program which NSAC championed. As a subprogram of LAMP, FMLFPP now has permanent mandatory funding, as does LAMP’s other subprogram, the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program and the new Regional Food Systems Partnership Program.