“Food LINC” to Boost Farm Sales, Grow Local Foods Sector
U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials have joined 15 national and regional philanthropic partners for a new initiative to bolster the supply chain for local food systems around 10 key U.S. cities. The project, dubbed “Food LINC,” will connect demand for local food in 10 urban areas with supply components from farmers and ranchers, strengthening each region’s local food business sector and also increasing consumer access to healthy, local food.
“Our investments in local food infrastructure have the most success in communities with strong coordination between producers, food purchasers and access to shared resources,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “Food LINC aims to create market opportunities for the areas’ producers and create or sustain jobs along that local supply chain. With the help from our partners, USDA can ‘supercharge’ our resources to create lasting impacts for farmers, ranchers and rural communities as a whole.”
Nearly $3 million in combined private and federal funding will support coordination by a host organization in each city. A full-time Food LINC coordinator will be embedded in each host organization for up to three years. The knowledge gained through their experiences will help the partnership determine next steps to link producers and entrepreneurs with families and institutional consumers to develop more robust local and regional food systems. The initiatives in each region will be documented to share best practices with other organizations working to grow similar opportunities in their communities nationwide.
New Mexico’s host organization is La Montañita Co-op. The Thornburg Foundation is the philanthropic partner. Beginning in 2007, La Montañita established its cooperative distribution center and Regional Foodshed Initiative to expand purchases by the co-op’s stores of sustainably grown products and to assist regional producers in accessing additional wholesale market channels. The initiative is developing “value chains,” through which collaborative partnerships are formed. Value chains are different from traditional food-supply chains in that there’s a shared mission and operational values among the partners involved. It’s as much or more about relationships as infrastructure. The goal is to enhance the growers’ financial returns.
Under Food LINC, La Montañita’s Value Chain team will be working with diverse farm operations to find new markets for locally grown products including pumpkins, apples, carrots, peeled garlic and cucumbers, as well as working to scale, brand and market value-added products such as chile ristras, yogurt, cheese and milled corn. Through producer convenings, technical assistance and enterprise development, La Montañita staff are exploring the feasibility of increasing local chicken, egg and buffalo production. They are also actively working with the co-op’s network of growers to explore new products that producers are interested in adding to their business or items for which they know there is an unmet market demand.
Benjamin Bartley recently joined La Montañita as a Value Chain specialist, working on local food procurement. He was previously the Food Access director at the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food & Agriculture in Washington, D.C.