USDA Programs Boosting Access to Local, Fresh Foods Across North Carolina

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Guilford County's Mobile OasisThe role of local food systems in supporting community and economic development is a topic that has received significant coverage on the CED blog. Blog contributor and SOG faculty member Rick Morse has covered this topic extensively on this blog, sharing strategies to promote local food initiatives, including resources specific to North Carolina, while contributor and faculty member Jonathan Morgan recently discussed how a community might go about quantifying and measuring the economic development impact of local foods systems.

United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offers several grants and programs directly to applicants and to states that can help communities develop their own local food systems. This post will highlight several of their programs designed to improve access to and expand production of locally and regionally produced foods:  Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP), Specialty Crop Program, and the Organic Certification Cost Share Program. An additional cornerstone USDA program, Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), used by the City of Raleigh to establish their downtown farmers market, is also described in this post.

The largest programs that the USDA’s AMS administers via 7 USC 3005 are the Farmers Market Promotion Program and Local Food Promotion Program. FMPP and LFPP increase access to local agricultural products and food businesses through marketing and business expansion respectively.

Farmers Market Promotion Program

In 2015, the USDA had $13 million to provide funding to applicants via this program which is intended to increase access to locally produced agricultural products by providing support through outreach, training, technical assistance to local farms and ranches. This grant does not require any cost-share or match and applicants can be awarded between $15,000 and $100,000. At least 10 percent of total funding will be provided to applicants in areas with limited access to supermarkets or applicants partnering with Promise Zone organizations.

Eligible applicants range from agricultural businesses, to nonprofits, and economic development corporations. FMPP will not be awarded to projects that benefit only one individual or farm vendor. Applications are competitively reviewed and scored in 5 categories:

  • Purpose (20 points): Must meet FMPP objectives
  • Approach (25 points): Must demonstrate how project will meet goals and objectives
  • Budget (20 points): Clearly described and reasonable budget
  • Impact (20 Points): Must describe expected outcomes, intended beneficiaries, and how the program will be evaluated. Some metrics used to assess impact includes the number of jobs created and retained; increase in consumer base; market sales; number of farmer beneficiaries
  • Outreach (15 points): Demonstrate plan to provide electronic project results

Each project has up to two years to be completed. Within this two year period, three interim reports must be submitted along with a final performance report following the conclusion of the project.

There are a variety of eligible activities under FMPP; however, funds cannot be used to construct a farmer’s market, purchase land or vehicles (allowable activities found here). There were four organizations in North Carolina in 2015 that received a grant via this program. All four applicants were close to or at the maximum grant amount.

  • Albemarle Commission in Hertford, NC
  • Foothills Farmers Market, Inc. in Shelby, NC
    • Similar to the Albemarle Commission’s use of their grant, the Foothills Farmers Market is also increasing awareness of the use of SNAP benefits at farmers markets and expanding access of local foods to the low-income population in Cleveland County. Much of this grant will pay personnel salaries and allow the farmers market to reach out communities they have been unable to reach out to at their current capacity.
    • This award is actually not the first FMPP grant Foothill Farmers’ Market has received. In 2010, this organization received an FMPP grant of $45,746 to brand its market and increase awareness through print, radio, and social media. Their final report details the goals and outcomes of their project. Through this grant, customer foot traffic increased by 118%; over 30 products were added during the project period; additional sales jumped from $84,000 in 2009 to $250,200 in 2012; and 7 new business were created. The beneficiaries of this grant include 72 market vendors, 800 weekly customers, 6 local restaurants and caterers. Moreover, Foothill Farmers’ Market was able to raise an additional $319,000 from over 20 organizations to go towards the construction of a permanent market facility.
  • Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services in Greensboro, NC
    • This promotional campaign will improve access to local foods by providing additional funds to Mobile Oasis, a mobile food market that will be advertised through radio and billboards. This mobile food market filled with local produce will be targeting areas in Guilford County that are considered food deserts. There are 24 food deserts in Guilford with 17 of them in Greensboro. To particularly help shoppers using SNAP benefits, the “Double Bucks” incentive program will match shoppers using SNAP with a voucher that expires in two weeks. Moreover, they will track shoppers’ purchases and provide incentives and prizes for buying locally produced foods through Mobile Oasis (article).
  • Peletah Ministries in New Bern, NC
    • This program specifically targets low-income communities regarding the Joseph Community Farmers’ Market and the ability to use SNAP and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program Peletah Ministries has been running the Joseph Community Farmers’ Market for two years now and in that time has fed over 18,000 people.

Local Food Promotion Program

While FMPP awards grants to applicants providing assistance directly to the consumer, LFPP awards applicants assisting supply chain activities such as storing, processing, and distributing food. Applicants cannot receive an LFPP award if they are still carrying out an FMPP grant and vice versa. Local or regional food is a food product that is transported at most 400 miles from the origin of the product. Approximately $13 million in funds were available for the 2015 application year.

There are two types of awards under this program: Planning and Implementation. The Planning Award is used during the planning stages of establishing or expanding a local or regional food business while the Implementation awards is used to carry out planned activities. An applicant cannot apply for both Planning and Implementation awards during the same funding year. Planning awards range from $5,000 to $25,000 and Implementation awards range between $25,000 and $100,000. Unlike FMPP, these awards require matching funds equaling 25 percent of the total project cost. Similar to FMPP, 10 percent of projects funded will be to projects in priority areas.

LFPP applications are also scored along the same guidelines in the Farmers Market Promotion Program. In 2015, there were four LFPP recipients in North Carolina.

  • Alleghany County
    • Alleghany was provided $40,500 and matched $13,500 to fund the cost of a refrigerated truck and staff to operate the vehicle.
  • Farmer Foodshare in Durham, NC
    • Farmer Foodshare will work with farm advocacy organizations to provide technical assistance and establish food production plans to identify and meet with potential buyers and lease transportation for distribution. This project was rewarded $97,242 with a matching fund of $33,000.
  • MANNA FoodBank, Inc. in Asheville, NC
    • With an LFPP award of $99,660 and matching fund of $34,250, MANNA FoodBank will improve their distribution capability by using a commercial-sized cooler room and recruit additional suppliers.
  • William Henry Harrison Chapman IV in Chapel Hill, NC
    • By purchasing processing and freezing equipment, this organization will be able to expand processing and storage capacity. Moreover, additional retail stores will be created with $100,000 award and $33,333 match.

In 2014, 6 NC-based organizations received Local Food Promotion Program funds. The City of Greensboro was one of those 6 recipients. Greensboro received $25,000 to create a Fresh Food Access Plan. The release of the plan coincided with Guilford’s County FMPP grant to expand the Guilford Mobile Oasis Farmers Market. The goal of this plan is to find ways to increase access to fresh, local produce in Greensboro’s food deserts. To reduce the number of food deserts, Greensboro has identified three strategies:

  1. Ensure that neighborhoods have retail access to fresh and local food
  2. Focus on existing food business enterprises in the area
  3. In areas with gaps in food access, create new food business enterprises

North Carolina Specialty Crop Grant Program

In addition to FMPP and LPP, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Services also provides states with funds to award in-state organizations. In 2015, the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (NCDA&CS) awarded over $1 million to nine NC-based organizations to receive specialty-crop block grants. Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and Christmas trees.

National Organic Certification Cost Share Program (NOCCSP)

Of the available $10.3 million available, NC was provided $160,900 to reimburse organic operations. This program falls under section 10606(d)(1) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act. In NC, the cost share program is administered by NCDA&CS and provides organizations a 75 percent reimbursement of up to $750 to obtain an organic certification.

The USDA plays a valuable role in providing access to fresh, local food across North Carolina. With these four grants, North Carolina based organizations received over $2 million to improve low-income populations’ in NC access to local produce as well as provide opportunities for organizations to become certified in their organic operations.

Omar Kashef is a second-year graduate student seeking a dual-degree in Public Administration and Information Science and is currently a Fellow with the Development Finance Initiative.

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