Regional Food System Partnership Program

Building public-private partnerships to plan and develop thriving local and regional food economies

By uniting public and private dollars and non-traditional and traditional financing entities, it is possible to drive the transformation of local and regional food systems into robust food economies. The Regional Food Systems Partnership (RFSP) program supports the formation of public-private partnerships working at the foodshed-level to transform local and regional food systems through planning and development projects.  

Learn More About RFSP:

Program Basics

The Regional Food Systems Partnership (RFSP) program was created in the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). Administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (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 similar in concept to the largely successful Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). The goal of RFSP is to permit the use of federal resources to leverage private investment and encourage landscape-level approaches to planning and developing regional food economies through the formation of multi-stakeholder partnerships supporting on-the-ground projects.

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 Request for Applications (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.

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. 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 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.

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, although such partners need not be based in the partnership’s defined region.


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.

The Program in Action

The RFSP program is a new program. To date no awards have been made through the program, please check back in the future for highlights on how the program is being used.

How to Apply and Program Resources

Each year, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) publishes an RFA in the Federal Register and solicits applications from eligible organizations. There is no set timeframe for when the RFA is released, though AMS attempts to publish during the first quarter of each calendar year. Each RFA typically gives applicants 60-90 days to prepare and submit their applications for grant funding.

More information about applying for AMS grants, including the RFSP program, is available through the AMS website. Also, be sure to check out NSAC’s Local and Regional Food Systems Blog to get up to date information on the latest RFA and awards

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

The Regional Food Systems Partnership Program (RFSP) was created in the 2018 Farm Bill as part of the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). LAMP serves as an umbrella program for local and regional food systems development programs and includes Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value-Added Producers Grant Program (VAPG) in addition to 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.

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.

Regional Food System Partnership Funding 

Fiscal Year Total Farm Bill Mandatory Funding (in millions)
5 yr total$25
10 yr total$50

Please note: The funding levels in the chart above show the amount of mandatory funding reserved by the 2018 Farm Bill for this program to be provided through USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation. However, Congress does at times pass subsequent appropriations legislation that caps the funding level for a particular year for a particular program at less than provided by the farm bill in order to use the resulting savings to fund a different program. Therefore, despite its “mandatory” status, the funding level for a given year could be less than the farm bill dictates should the Appropriations Committees decide to repurpose these funds for other programs under its jurisdiction. In addition, RFSP program is subject to automatic cuts as part of an annual sequestration process established by the Budget Control Act of 2011.

For the most current information on program funding levels, please see NSAC’s Annual Appropriations Chart.

Authorizing Language

Section 10102 of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 amends subtitle A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1621 et seq.) by adding Section 210A Local Agriculture Market Program.

Last updated in April 2020.