Jun 2, 2023
Regional food business centers aim to strengthen capacity and resilience

A new, $25 million food business center in Iowa will combine resources from five states to create a resource hub for regional food systems.

The web-based Heartland Regional Food Business Center, funded by a USDA grant, will connect local food entrepreneurs and food purchasers from Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma.

The project is one of 12 regional food business centers funded nationwide.

 “We have an amazing food system in this country, but I think COVID and the pandemic really highlighted some of the challenges we face in our food system,” Christa Hartsook, small farms program coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said in an article on the university’s website. “The partners involved with this project represent a broad array of experts who can help food entrepreneurs scale their business and get local food to where it is really needed.”

The business centers were announced early last month as part of the USDA’s $420 million Resilient Food Systems Infrastructure Program to fund projects designed to invest in processing and distribution capacity to build supply chain resilience and strengthen local and regional food systems.

Other business centers include: Northwest and Rocky Mountain; Southwest; North Central; Rio Grande Colonias; Great Lakes Midwest; Delta; Appalachia; Northeast; Southeast; and Islands and Remote Areas. There is also a National Intertribal Food Business Center.

“USDA recognizes that local and regional food systems are essential to the overall food supply chain and the new Regional Food Business Centers are the cornerstone of our efforts to support them,” Jenny Moffitt, USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, said in release announcing the centers. “The resources and diverse knowledge offered through the centers will make the opportunities available through dozens of USDA programs more accessible to small and mid-sized producers and food and farm businesses.”

Hartsook said project partners are actively reviewing the resources available in each state and how to best move forward with the creation of the business centers.

The online portal will provide information, resources and connections for farmers, farmers markets, community leaders, rural residents and other stakeholders. The organizations selected to lead each center are engaging with grassroots food and farm organizations and employing a range of strategies to build food system resiliency.

“We’re very excited about these regional food business centers, and we’re really excited about the partners on the ground,” Moffitt said. “I believe very strongly in locally led solutions, that we do more when people who are trusted in the region, who know the region, who already have partnerships in the region, are empowered and have the funding to be able to come together to overcome complex challenges and find creative solutions.”

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