NSAC's Blog

Inaugural Regional Food Systems Partnership Program Funding Opportunity Announced

March 31, 2020

On site at the citrus processing facility of Triple J Organic in McAllen, TX. Photo credit, Reana Kovalcik.
On site at the citrus processing facility of Triple J Organic in McAllen, TX. Photo credit, Reana Kovalcik.

Local and regional food economy entrepreneurs and organizations received some long-awaited news earlier in March – the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) finally released the 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 created 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.  In creating LAMP, Congress was able to ensure permanent, mandatory funding of $50 million per year across the three programs, including $5 million dedicated specifically for RFSP.

For 2020, AMS announced the availability of $10 million for RFSP grants.  This includes $5 million in farm bill funding from last year as well, since there was a one-year implementation delay after passage of the new farm bill in order for USDA to stand up the new program.

The deadline to apply for the RFSP program is May 26, 2020 (extended from May 11, 2020 due to COVID-19) and all submissions must be done through grants.gov.

AMS is hosting two webinars to help potential applicants understand the application process, review the program purpose, eligibility, and basic requirements for the submission of an application. The first webinar will be focused on navigating the grants.gov system and the next on the specific details of the grant program.

COVID-19 and Local Food

NSAC recognizes these are challenging times for organizations and farmers working in the local and regional food space and we are actively working to mitigate and address the unique challenges the COVID-19 pandemic and response presents for local and regional food systems. NSAC released this statement on the response and is actively working with Congress and the Administration to ensure farmers and operators of local and regional food systems are included in any additional emergency response legislation. Those efforts include advocating for maximum flexibility in the grant process, including extending RFA deadlines, which thankfully USDA has granted.

NSAC encourages potential applications to think about how RFSP program funding can be utilized as an opportunity to develop and expand the kind of public-private partnerships that are going to be necessary to rebuild and strengthen regional food systems disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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 off of 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;
  • Regional food system development 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”. As recommended by NSAC, 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 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.

The RFA also takes a flexible approach to the alignment of activities and project partners. Recognizing the complicated nature of food systems and the reality that some eligible entities involved in a project may source some of their food and farm products from outside of the defined region, such businesses are still allowed to participate in a RFSP program supported project, but federal award funds must only support activities related to supply chain activities in the proposed region.

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 2020 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 September 30, 2020. 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 partnership 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 September 30, 2020 and last no longer that 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 2020 RFA.

Matching Fund Requirements & Priorities

As a program designed to use public investment to catalyze the development and expansion of local and regional food economies, RFSP grants require a non-federal cash match equal to 25 percent of the total amount of federal funding provided. As a result, in-kind contributions do not count towards the match; however, in-kind contributions do contribute to priority consideration during the administrative review portion of the application process.

Priority consideration during the administrative review process is provided to applications:

  • That leverage significant non-federal financial and technical resources (including in-kind contributions);
  • Cover an area that includes communities with concentrated poverty and provide opportunities for high impact investment; or
  • Have a diverse set of project partners.

Peer Review Panels

Every year, USDA seeks members of the public to serve on their peer review grant 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 has launched a new peer reviewer application portal, which can be found here. The deadline to apply to be a grant reviewer for RFSP program is May 15.

Categories: Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Marketing and Labeling, Nutrition & Food Access, Rural Development

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