USDA announces Regional Food Business Centers, new program

The US Department of Agriculture has unveiled 12 USDA Regional Food Business Centers to help farmers and ranchers access new markets and navigate federal, state, and local resources.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack said, “we think it will provide technical and financial assistance to continue strengthening our local and regional food system.”

The USDA has said $400 million will be used to fund the Regional Food Business Centers.

The 12 centers are:  

  • Appalachia USDA Regional Food Business Center – Rural Action, Inc. 
  • Delta USDA Regional Food Business Center – Mississippi Delta Council for Farmworker Opportunities 
  • Rio Grande Colonias USDA Regional Food Business Center – Texas A&M AgriLife 
  • Great Lakes Midwest USDA Regional Food Business Center – Michigan State University 
  • Heartland USDA Regional Food Business Center – University of Nebraska
  • Island and Remote Areas USDA Regional Food Business Center – Hawaii Good Food Alliance 
  • North Central USDA Regional Food Business Center – Region Five Development Commission 
  • Northeast USDA Regional Food Business Center – National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) Foundation 
  • Northwest and Rocky Mountain USDA Regional Food Business Center – Colorado State University 
  • Southeast USDA Regional Food Business Center – Georgia Minority Outreach Network 
  • Southwest USDA Regional Food Business Center – University of California 
  • National Intertribal Food Business Center – Intertribal Agriculture Council 

More than $40 million will be used to establish the Appalachian Regional Food Business Center, one of the finalists, in partnership with Rural Action Inc.  

Senator Sherrod Brown says the center will help expand markets for small- and mid-sized farms and food businesses.  

“The center will serve as a regional hub that will connect farmers and small businesses with market opportunities. It’s about giving Ohio farmers more tools and support to sell their products, including in their own communities— the best way,” he says. “This investment will go directly to support local farmers and local food production. It creates local jobs and helps keep money in Ohio communities; lifting up farmers in rural communities.”

Rural Action CEO Debbie Phillips says the organization applied as part of the Central Appalachian Network, a network of practitioners working across state lines supporting farmers and food businesses through technical assistance and access to resources.

She says the center, through collaboration with organizations that have an on-the-ground presence in local communities, will be able to support small businesses in Ohio and several surrounding states. Phillips says they are excited to work with the USDA.

“We really appreciate Secretary Vilsack and USDA’s recognition of the importance of these shorter food value chains and the resilience in our local and regional food systems. It’s just so important,” she says. “To be able to work in partnership with USDA to help local farmers and local food businesses connect to all of the different programs that USDA offers. To work with them, to be able to provide technical assistance, business planning assistance, and also be able to use the business builder grants, the regranting portion of this program to directly make grants to these farms and food businesses to help them stay strong resilient. It’s a very exciting program and we are so delighted to be part of this and be in a position to really help open doors for a lot of folks who many not know how to access these programs.”

The Appalachian Regional Food Business Center will serve Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.

In a news release Rural Action says the funding will allow it and partners throughout the region to help with grant writing support, mentoring, business planning services, and access to land. It will also support food and farm businesses with market entry and strengthen existing connections with urban markets through increased efficiency in aggregation and distribution, meaning food and farm businesses can sell more products to more people.

The USDA also announced $420 million in a new Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program. Vilsack says it will increase access to nutritious foods, ensure there is no community left behind, and more.

“This is designed to provide resources to cooperative agreements to secretaries and commissioners and directors of agriculture and departments of agriculture throughout the states to expand capacity and processing, collection, manufacturing, storing, transporting, wholesaling and distributing specialty crops, dairy, grains for human consumption, aquaculture and non-meat and poultry,” he says.

He says it’s a companion effort to the meat and poultry processing capacity that the department previously announced.

Vilsack says the announcements are consistent with the administration’s efforts to transform the food system and offer an alternative to the commercial production agricultural system.

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