Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the availability of approximately $400 million to provide essential local and regional food systems coordination, technical assistance, and capacity building services through USDA’s new Regional Food Business Centers.
“The USDA Regional Food Business Centers will be a new, critical asset as we continue our work to strengthen and enhance local and regional food systems across the nation,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Regional Food Business Centers will serve as USDA’s cornerstone in the development of the local and regional supply chains, building on lessons learned during the pandemic, providing technical assistance, and creating new market opportunities in areas where the need is greatest.”
USDA will fund at least six regional centers, to include a national tribal center and at least one center serving each of three targeted areas: Colonias (counties on the U.S./Mexico border), persistent poverty or other communities of high need/limited resources areas of the Delta and the Southeast, and high need areas of Appalachia as well as centers in other regions of the country.
The Regional Food Business Centers will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity building to help farmers, ranchers, and other food businesses access new markets and navigate federal, state and local resources, thereby closing the gaps or barriers to success. The Regional Food Business Centers will assist small and mid-sized producers and food and farm businesses with the goal of creating a more resilient, diverse, and competitive food system.
“USDA is committed to supporting smaller producers, processors, and distributors to diversify economic opportunities in underserved communities,” said USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs Jenny Lester Moffitt. “The USDA Regional Food Business Centers will decrease barriers and improve supply chain linkages for producers, processors and distributors and strengthen regional food systems networks and partnerships in response to hardships and vulnerabilities exposed by recent national emergencies, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has published a Request for Applications (RFA) for this program. AMS is soliciting applications from organizations across the nation to develop the Regional Food Business Centers that will be geographically based, serving regional needs. Applicants must define the regions that their proposed Regional Food Business Center will serve, specifying high-needs priority areas within that region. USDA intends to serve each of the following priority areas by establishing at least one Regional Food Business Center in:
- National Tribal Center
- Colonias (counties on the U.S./Mexico border)
- Persistent poverty or other communities of high need/limited resources areas of the Delta and the Southeast high-need areas of Appalachia
USDA also intends to make awards to Regional Food Business Centers that serve other areas of the country beyond those explicitly listed above.
The Regional Food Business Centers serving these high-need priority areas will identify farm to market linkages across its proposed geographic area to reach a variety of markets. Further guidance for applications is available in the RFA.
All applications to lead a Regional Food Business Center must come from a partnership consisting of three or more eligible entities representing at least two of the eligible entity types. Eligible entities include producer networks or associations, food councils, tribal governments, state agencies or regional authorities, institutions of higher education, nonprofit corporations, economic development corporations, and partnerships between one or more eligible entities.