With food shortages exacerbated by the pandemic, the Biden administration has announced a flurry of initiatives and funding opportunities to increase resiliency in food supply chains. Tucked into these announcements is the Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreements Program, one we at New Venture Advisors are keeping an eye on.

The LFPA program is part of the “Build Back Better” initiative, authorized by the American Rescue Plan. This program aims to maintain and improve food and agricultural supply chain resiliency by awarding up to $400 million through non-competitive cooperative agreements with state and tribal governments to purchase food from local, regional, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers. The contracts will allow them to procure and distribute local and regional foods and beverages that are healthy, nutritious, and unique to their geographic area and to give smaller producers access to larger markets.

This exciting new approach could allow for more inclusive and innovative food systems. Of course, only time will tell, but good food advocates are buzzing about LFPA for a few reasons.

 

  1. It promotes racial and social equity. The LFPA explicitly names socially disadvantaged producers as critical suppliers for local food procurement. Therefore, allowances and assistance should be available to eliminate barriers that have kept small producers, namely BIPOC producers, who have faced more barriers in selling wholesale at fair prices.
  2. It gives agency to those already doing the work. Community organizations, food hubs, and regional food system workers will play a crucial role in helping shape the program because they understand the intricacies of local supply chains. They can provide state and tribal agencies historical background on successes and failures, existing infrastructure, and how to best leverage strategic partnerships. The program’s success will depend on those at the ground level who can ensure an equitable process that supports marginalized farmers and communities that need the program most. Moreover, the LFPA could be an asset for local food system planning and policymaking.
  3. There is no previous blueprint to follow. Unlike most USDA programs, the LFPA provides few limiting stipulations to dictate how the program operates in each state/tribal government. Thus, it has the flexibility to push the envelope and change current procurement and distribution procedures. The program’s looseness encourages new approaches that could change how local food systems operate in the future.

The LFPA will only be as effective as the voices incorporated into its very fabric. The risk is that the program may continue to exclude those it intends to benefit. For example, the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box program, while helping increase distribution to food-insecure households, is criticized for its lack of inclusion. The program’s structure resulted in a race to the bottom to be the lowest bidder with the highest volumes, which eliminated the participation of small, disadvantaged farmers who could not compete.

To rewrite the narrative of government-backed programs, get involved with the initiative in your state (here is a list) before the application closes on May 6, 2022. The first year of the LFPA will focus on organizing, with opportunities for input on program improvements, so we encourage you to join the conversation with your state network. We are optimistic that better food system practices will emerge as a result. Also, be sure to follow the Wallace Center Food System Leadership Network where you will find up-to-date information and an ongoing discussion about LFPA.

 

Photo by Pixababy/StockSnap

 Whatcom County Food System Plan

The Whatcom County Food System Committee recently conducted a community food assessment that pointed to key opportunities to build a more robust and resilient regional food system. New Venture Advisors will partner with Whatcom County staff and the Food System Committee to draft a Whatcom County Food System Plan that builds upon these findings. This Plan will focus on six sectors of the food system including fishing, farming, labor, food access, environment, and waste, and will be informed by an inclusive and equitable community engagement process.  The Food System Plan will provide the county with a policy roadmap that will strengthen the local food system for years to come. (2022)

 Whatcom Local Food Campus

The Whatcom Community Foundation invests in activities and organizations that improve the ability of people to help themselves, increase connections among people, and take cooperative approaches to community issues. WCF is exploring the development of a local food campus on a waterfront property that would become a multi-tenant site, anchored by a school district commissary. The goal is to strengthen Whatcom County’s local food system by promoting health equity, forging tangible strategic connections between food production organizations, and helping farmers connect with institutional markets. NVA developed the business case for this ambitious project and continues to support its development. (2022)