The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently announced the 2023 Regional Food System Partnership, Farmers Market Promotion and Local Food Promotion program awards, totaling $32 million for 98 projects to bolster local and regional food economies across the country.
This year, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) offered a new ‘turnkey’ application process for applicants seeking funding for a specific set of marketing and promotion activities for Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion grants. ‘Turnkey’ is a term for simplified federal grants with short applications and lower barriers to entry. This post highlights this new process and features National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) members who were awarded a grant this year.
The 2018 Farm Bill created new opportunities to coordinate and maximize investments in local and regional food systems by creating the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). This program combined existing Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion and Value-Added Producer grant programs with a new Regional Food System Partnership program. The combination of the programs ensures they each have permanent funding and encourages coordination between AMS and Rural Development. Stakeholders also advocated for the simplification of application and reporting processes to increase the accessibility of the program for small and rural organizations.
The Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) was first established in 2002 to offer funding for the development, expansion, or coordination of direct-to-consumer activities. As demand for local food has nearly doubled since 2008, advocates such as NSAC recognized the need to support a wider variety of activities that create and sustain local and regional food systems. Over years of advocacy, this led to the eventual creation of the Local Food Promotion (LFPP) and Regional Food System Partnership Program (RFSP) which offers support across the supply chain for mid-tier businesses and value-chain coordination.
This year AMS announced funding for Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion projects that include $13.9 million for 55 FMPP projects and $14.1 million for 33 LFPP projects. Twenty-two of the awardees participated in the new turnkey marketing and promotion application.
Securing a federal grant is no simple task. The applications often contain dozens of pages of instruction and an additional dozen in writing, letters of support, match documentation, and project budgets. While these AMS funding opportunities are intended to support business development and the growth of local food economies in underserved areas, they often require extensive time and experience that some organizations don’t necessarily have. Community organizations have advocated for simplified applications and reporting procedures to ensure organizations have equal opportunity for awards, no matter if they have allocated staff for grant writing. The 2018 Farm Bill included language that directed AMS to simplify the application and reporting procedures and provide technical assistance to support prospective applicants.
This year, AMS offered an abbreviated grant application referred to as the “turnkey marketing and promotion grant”. The application offered shorter narrative sections and outcome measurements were pre-populated. Applicants using this simplified application could fund project promotion and marketing activities such as, developing or implementing a marketing plan, analyzing new markets, or measuring the success of new techniques. These activities have consistent work elements and have demonstrated effectiveness in expanding local food markets, making it simpler to make funding determinations.
The creation of a turnkey grant not only increases equity in USDA award distribution. It also builds capacity for organizations to pursue future, larger AMS awards. AMS offers a variety of application types that allow for planning, implementation and broader network training.
Examples from the field
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA), an NSAC member, was awarded a turnkey grant to develop three studies (an economic impact report, audience audit, and organic language assessment) and three marketing campaigns (for farmer support, buyer training, and consumer awareness). MOFGA hopes community stakeholders will increase their technical knowledge about local foods, producers will gain knowledge about new market opportunities, and consumers will gain knowledge about local agricultural products.
“I loved the turnkey application – it felt very approachable. This was one of the first times I applied for a project that would involve multiple departments at MOFGA, and the simplicity of the application made it easier to collaborate on the proposal. A long narrative application would have been more complicated,” commented Ryan Dennett, MOFGA Programs Director.
Other Farmers Market Promotion awards focused on community development, training, or technical assistance. The Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), another NSAC member, will partner with Michigan State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison to train and build the capacity of farmers markets to collect and analyze data characterizing their market’s social, environmental and economic impact. Markets will use data to create a marketing campaign to increase market sales and reach communities underrepresented among market shoppers.
“We all know that data is powerful and that sharing the right piece of data with the right audience can create tangible results. The Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA) has been working for over a decade to create a culture of data collection amongst farmers markets in Michigan and beyond. Our partnership with Michigan State University on this FMPP grant will help us further unlock feasible, scale appropriate and impactful ways to collect, analyze, and share data targeted to specific audiences that can help increase customer attendance, grow vendor sales, and expand the inclusivity of farmers markets,” said Amanda Shreve, Executive Director of MIFMA.
However, some NSAC members shared that an easier application was not enough to increase participation among smaller farmers markets or organizations. There are still challenges, like the match requirements, which organizations are working to change in the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization.
With the Farm Bill reauthorization on the horizon, there are proposals that would improve the turnkey application process and make it a permanent option for Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program grants. The Local Farms and Food Act would offer simplified turnkey applications for a wider variety of activities, such as staff time and equipment for business ventures. Additional proposals have called for the elimination of the match requirement. Combined, these proposals would increase program accessibility and ensure funding can be used for catalytic investments that support strong markets and increased capacity.
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Author: Hannah Quigley