NSAC's Blog

Inaugural Regional Food Systems Partnership Program Awards Announced

November 18, 2020

Pike Place Farmers Market in Seattle, WA. Photo credit : Stephanie Henry.
Pike Place Farmers Market in Seattle, WA. Photo credit : Stephanie Henry.

In October, the U.S. The Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced the inaugural round of grant awards for the Regional Food Systems Partnership (RFSP) program, providing $9.3 million in competitive grant funding for 23 projects.  RFSP supports the formation of public-private partnerships working at the foodshed-level to transform local and regional food systems through planning and development projects.  

RFSP was created in the 2018 Farm Bill as a component 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), as well as 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.

Implementing and standing up a new competitive grants program is a great deal of work and as a result there was a one-year delay in implementing the program. Consequently, AMS combined two years worth of farm bill funding for the inaugural round of grants for the RFSP program. Future requests for applications are expected to be only for $5 million in available grant funding.

Program Details

Administered by the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), the RFSP program provides competitive grant funding to support multi-stakeholder partnerships approaches to planning and developing local and regional food economies.

The concept of the partnership program, which focuses on facilitating the development of public-private partnerships, is based on the largely successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The intent 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.

Inaugural Awards

In October, the USDA awarded 23 partnerships in 15 states. The 23 awards include $2.5 million for 13 Planning & Design projects; and $6.8 million for 10 Implementation & Expansion projects. AMS received 98 eligible applications for the program requesting over $40 million in grant funding, while leveraging over $16 million in private in-kind and cash resources. With approximately $10 million available, AMS was able to fund approximately 24% of the eligible applications they received.

Eligible Applications

Grant TypeNumber of AppsAmount RequestedMatch Amount
Planning & Design54$10,830,367.28$5,643,440.00
Implementation & Expansion44$30,309,767.07$10,643,567.00

Distribution of Applications

Credit USDA

The fact that AMS was only able to fund approximately 24% of the eligible applications they received speaks volumes about the interest in regional food systems development and the RFSP program. 

The strong interest in the RFSP program is occurring in parallel with the most recent round of awards through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP), which is administered as two subprograms, the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and the Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). AMS was able to fund approximately 29% of the FMPP projects that applied for funding and 23% of LFPP applications. The high quality applications submitted for RFSP, FMPP and LFPP, even as organizations struggled to deal with the impacts of the ongoing pandemic, shows the importance of local and regional food systems. Furthermore, the RFSP appears to be meeting unmet demand rather thn supplanting FMPP or LFPP.    

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is pleased to report that two of our member organizations received RFSP grants as part of the inaugural round of funding. 

A full list of all the projects that received awards from the inaugural round of funding can be found here

NSAC Member Projects

Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems – received $746,480 to work in partnership with the MSU Product Center, on a project that will focus on both urban and rural communities within SW Michigan and the Upper Peninsula to leverage partnerships and an ecosystem of food system business and policy networks, to expand collaborative efforts to connect food and farm enterprises, food hubs, incubator kitchens, and institutional and retail markets. The partnerships are carrying forward the work of multiple public and private organizations with over 17 years’ experience in developing local and regional food systems. The project will further integrate local food system expertise to address the needs of low-resource partners, respond to COVID-19, and support economic growth to build a stronger, more resilient, and just local economy.

“This award from USDA will allow us to create a more cohesive collaboration infrastructure to better support urban and rural communities of need in Michigan. We will expand the reach of the Michigan Good Food Fund to assist local food and farm entrepreneurs who bring healthy and affordable foods into Battle Creek and the Upper Peninsula.”

Jamie Rahrig project lead with the MSU Center for Regional Food System and the MSU Product Center.

The Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York (NOFA-NY) – received $140,935 to fund the project, “Feasibility Study to Assess the Capacity for Growing New York’s Mid-tier Value Chain.” This study will assess key areas of investment to improve aggregation, processing, and distribution, enhancing access to markets for sustainable and organic small and mid-size producers. NOFA-NY will partner on this project with Amy’s Kitchen, Northeast Grainshed, the Center for Agricultural Development & Entrepreneurship, Regional Access, Food Bank of Central New York, Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance, GrowNYC, and Syracuse University.

“We are honored to receive an award in the inaugural round of funding for the Regional Food System Partnerships Program. Now, more than ever, we see the critical need for investment in local and regional value chains to ensure a safe and healthy food supply.”

Bethany Wallis, NOFA-NY Executive Director.

Categories: Carousel, Farm Bill, General Interest, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access, Rural Development

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