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Lessons Learned from the Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center

December 5, 2013

Yesterday, NSAC member group the Wallace Center announced the release of a new report, Innovations in Local Food Enterprise: Fresh Ideas for a Just and Profitable Food System, which distills lessons learned from the Healthy Urban Food Enterprise Development Center (HUFED), a project managed by the Wallace Center and funded by USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture.

Created in the 2008 Farm Bill, HUFED provided grants from 2009 to 2011 in support of innovative food businesses and healthy food access in underserved urban, rural, and suburban communities.  The grants also aimed at building local and regional food systems and increasing economic opportunities for underserved communities.  Over its 3 year tenure, the HUFED Center provided grants totally over $885,000 to 30 organizations from around the country working on a range of projects spanning the food system – from production and processing to aggregation, distribution, and retail.

The report provides stakeholders – practitioners, investors, and policymakers – with practical guidance in their efforts to support more sustainable communities.  Drawn from the experience of HUFED awardee organizations and the Wallace Center’s experience as a grantmaker and technical assistance provider to these groups, the report highlights trends and case studies in the following four areas of innovation: (1) affordability and profitability, (2) infrastructure and logistics, (3) community engagement, and (4) marketing.

Case Study: ALBA and ALBA Organics

Of particular note among the eight case studies featured in the report is NSAC member group Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association (ALBA), located in Salinas, California.  Originally founded in 1985 to transition farmworkers into farmers through technical assistance and trainings, ALBA has since expanded into infrastructure and logistics assistance for small-scale beginning and limited-resource farmers.  In 2002, ALBA began ALBA Organics, a regional food hub that provides aggregation, marketing, and distribution services for local farmers.  Wholesale customers for the local and organic produce supplied by ALBA Organics’ farmers include restaurants, grocery stores, supermarkets, schools and other institutions.

More recently, ALBA created a food enterprise incubator program, which expands its warehouse space and provides a food processing facility and commercial kitchen incubator.  ALBA not only helps build the supply chain for local and regional farm-fresh foods, but also the demand for these foods through a farmers market incentive program known as Market Match, which boosts the purchasing power of SNAP beneficiaries at select farmers markets, and through a Harvest-of-the-Month program that encourages students to increase their fresh fruit and vegetable consumption with local food taste tests and in-class lessons, in collaboration with NSAC member group Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF).

ALBA exemplifies solution-building that is creative, values-driven, and cross-cutting, a characteristic which is shared among its fellow HUFED grant recipients.  Recognizing this, the report highlights the common strategies for success shared by HUFED awardees and provides links and descriptions to resources such as funding sources, research, toolkits, and project examples for each of the four areas of innovation.

USDA Funding Among the Drivers of Innovation, But New Funding Requires a New Farm Bill

Among the funding sources noted in the report that can support innovative local farm and food enterprises are several USDA programs: the Value Added Producer Grant Program (VAPG), Community Food Projects (CFG), and the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) – all three of which are Farm Bill programs and all three of which are currently without funding beyond fiscal year 2013 because of the previously expired Farm Bill and recently expired Farm Bill extension.  Last week, we wrote about the release of the latest round of funding for VAPG.  However, funding for fiscal year 2014 (which is to be a part of this latest notice of funding available) for VAPG has been left in the lurch by the currently stalled Farm Bill.

With the HUFED program no longer running, it is critical that VAPG, CFP, and FMPP be supported with strong funding levels in a final Farm Bill.  At a minimum, the higher annual mandatory funding levels provided by the Senate for VAPG ($12.5 million) and by the House for FMPP ($30 million) and CFP ($10 million) should be adopted.  Without strong USDA programs, there will be fewer resources to create innovative programs like ALBA Organics and similar entrepreneurial opportunities in the food-farm sector that balance economic, environmental, and community sustainability.

Categories: Local & Regional Food Systems

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