On Wednesday, May 31, 2022, Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, made a major announcement about the funding of a framework to transform the food supply. Referencing supply chain issues as the impetus for the changes, Vilsack laid out a comprehensive plan which would, if implemented thoroughly, decrease further supply chain issues and increase access to healthy, organic food for millions.
The welcome and surprising news was that funding for organic food production, primarily transitioning from conventional to organic, jumped from $20 million in previous years to $300 million.
In addition, a major victory for the health and food movement is that $40 million in funding will support produce as prescription...in other words, food as medicine. This funding will support doctors to be able to prescribe fresh (hopefully organic and local) produce to patients who have limited access to proper nutrition.
Up to $175 million is slated for urban agriculture, $400 million to create regional food business centers to support access to local food, $60 million for the Farm-to-School program, $155 million to reduce food deserts, and even $50 million for senior centers to have greater access to local farmers market produce.
Moms Across America is thrilled to see our government taking steps in the right direction! We can imagine food movement friends dancing in their kitchen right now. While many organizations have made requests and worked for many years for this outcome, we want to let our supporters know that Moms Across America made many requests of this administration to do many of the things that are now being implemented. Particularly in our letter titled 4 Investments 4 the Future, we asked the administration for the following:
- Shift the budgeted subsidies for GMO crops and their related chemicals and allocate the funds to schools, senior centers, prisons, and veteran agencies for organic food
- Prioritize funding to support nonprofits that raise awareness about the CAUSE of these illnesses
- Shift a portion of the budget to support new, young, and minority farmers
- Shift the budget from unnecessary war weapon expenditures to supporting community centers (such as Moms across America centers in partnership with the Boys and Girls Club or libraries), which support local moms and families
Our letter to Tom Vilsack, head of the USDA, and Michael Regan of the EPA, and Bernie Sanders, Head of the Budget Committee, can be found here.
It is time to invest in infrastructure to increase access to local food, healthy produce, and organic food. This could be a game-changer for our nation and future generations if implemented effectively.
Meat processing was a major focus of the plan, as 85% of the meat industry is currently operated by only four corporations. When one facility closes, hundreds of thousands or millions of livestock processing are backed up and unable to be distributed. Many, including the newly released Eating our Way to Extinction producers, argue that animal agriculture contributes to climate change and would likely find fault with this funding. It should be noted however that this funding seems as if it is primarily slated to support local small organic and regenerative farmers whose practices have a much smaller impact on the environment than confined animal factory feeding operations that require millions of acres of toxic GMO corn and soy mono-crops. While the funding of the animal processing plants is not the solution vegans are hoping for, it does reduce the dependency on GMO mono-crops that have been the reason for the destruction of rainforests and sacred lands.
Are we naive to the corruption that could result from these hundreds of millions of dollars being doled out to organizations and companies? No. Are we skeptical if the money will merely line the pockets of more Fat Cats? Yes. But is there also a possibility that we have made progress? Has the food movement educated Tom Vilsack and his team that regenerative organic farming and access to organic food are essential? Clearly, the answer is yes. We commend every person who has spoken up, called, texted, posted, and met with legislation. THANK YOU!
See below to read a more detailed description of the USDA funding.
Excerpt from the USDA announcement:
Farmers and ranchers across this country work hard every day to produce the food that feeds their neighbors and communities. The pandemic spotlighted the many challenges they face in accessing markets and capturing a fair share of the food dollar. We know that small and mid-size operations struggle in particular, and there are still too many barriers to entry for new farmers. USDA is focused on increasing options for American farmers to process locally, sell locally, and adopt practices that are good for their businesses and the climate. Future USDA investments include:
- Up to $300 million in a new Organic Transition Initiative to provide comprehensive support for farmers to transition to organic production. Organic production allows producers to demand a premium in the marketplace and thus take home a more significant share of the food dollar; climate and environmental benefits can also be. This initiative will deliver wrap-around technical assistance, including farmer-to-farmer mentoring, provide direct support through conservation financial assistance and additional crop insurance assistance, and support market development projects in targeted markets.
- Up to $75 million to support urban agriculture. From farms within city boundaries to community gardens, urban agriculture plays a vital role in connecting producers and consumers to food, agriculture, and one another while contributing to the local economy. The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 authorized the Office of Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production to award competitive grants to support urban agriculture. Yet, in 2020 and 2021, only six percent of all applications received were funded. USDA will invest $20 million in funding a backlog of applications and an additional $10 million increase in money available for the 2022 funding year. Additionally, USDA will invest $40 million in cooperative agreements with organizations to support outreach and training activities for urban farmers. These funds will expand access to nutritious foods, foster community engagement, increase awareness of climate change, mitigate the effects within urban areas, provide jobs, educate communities about farming, and expand green spaces. USDA also is supporting local production by investing $5 million through the People’s Garden initiative.
These actions build on the Organic Certification and Transition Cost Share program that was previously announced that provides pandemic assistance to producers and handlers of agricultural products who are obtaining or renewing their certification under the National Organic Program (NOP); this process can be costly and can be a barrier to market access for limited resource producers. USDA also announced the Farm and Food Worker Relief Grant Program earlier this year, which will provide support to workers in food production and processing who faced challenges during the pandemic.
The pandemic highlighted challenges within the middle of the food supply chain. Consolidated processing capacity created supply bottlenecks, which led to a drop in effective plant and slaughter capacity. Small and midsize farmers often struggled to compete for processing access and were left without an avenue for getting their animals to market. Addressing these challenges is key to transforming food systems. Building more distributed, local capacity will help build resiliency in market disruptions, provide more choices for producers to create value-added products and sell locally, and support new economic opportunities and job creation in rural communities. USDA has already made investments to support new and expanded regional processing capacity and address challenges in the middle of the supply chain, including underinvestment in workforce development and barriers to new entrants into the sector. Previous announcements include:
- The Food Supply Chain Loan Guarantee Program will back private lenders that invest in independently owned food processing, distribution and aggregation infrastructure, and other projects along the middle of the supply chain. Independently owned and available infrastructure such as cold storage, refrigerated trucks, and processing facilities are in short supply but essential to creating a more resilient food system. USDA has deployed $100 million to make more than $1 billion in guaranteed loans available immediately. The program is accepting applications.
- Deployment of up to $375 million in support of independent meat and poultry processing plant projects fills a demonstrated need for a more diversified processing capacity. These investments will be made in two phases. The first phase of the Meat and Poultry Processing Expansion Program will deploy $150 million in grants up to $25 million each to expand processing capacity through various activities, including but not limited to construction, expansion of existing facilities, and acquisition of equipment. The first phase recently closed, accepting more than 200 applications, representing more than $800 million in funding requests.
- Creation of a robust technical assistance network to ensure that participants in USDA’s meat and poultry supply chain initiatives have access to a full range of technical assistance to support their project development and success. Meat and poultry processing facilities are complex, with many technical standards and requirements; the odds of successfully starting or expanding a facility are higher with access to expertise and experience. USDA is deploying $25 million through the Meat and Poultry Processing Capacity Technical Assistance Program.
- Investment of up to $275 million in partnership with lenders to address the credit access gap for meat and poultry processing projects because lenders have been reticent to invest in the meat and poultry sector without incentives to do so given the risk profile and lack of experience in the sector. USDA will work with lenders to make more capital available to independent processors that need credit, providing loans and other support to businesses at rates and on terms that increase access to long-term, affordable capital.
Additional planned investments include:
- Investment of up to $100 million to support the development of a pipeline of well-trained workers and safe workplaces in the processing sector. A reliable, well-trained workforce will be essential to the success of independent meat and poultry processing facilities. Still, there are currently very few training programs that prepare workers for these jobs. Initially, USDA will invest $40 million into existing National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) programs, including the Extension Risk Management Education Program, Sustainable Agriculture Research Education Program, Agricultural Workforce Training Program, and Centers of Excellence specifically focused on supporting workforce development for meat and poultry processing. USDA will also make investments to promote innovation and research and development to support independent business owners, entrepreneurs, producers, and other groups, such as cooperatives and worker associations, creating new capacity or expanding existing capacity.
- $200 million for Food Safety Certification for Specialty Crops Program for specialty crop operations that incur eligible on-farm food safety program expenses. These operations incur high costs to comply with regulatory requirements and market-driven food safety certification requirements each year, and getting these certifications opens new market opportunities for the farmers. The ongoing economic challenges due to the COVID-19 pandemic have made meeting those requirements even more financially challenging and more critical to access additional markets.
- Up to $600 million in financial assistance to support food supply chain infrastructure that the meat and poultry processing program does not cover. Independently owned and available infrastructure such as cold storage, refrigerated trucks, and processing facilities are in short supply but essential to creating a more resilient food system. USDA will invest in addressing the limited processing, distribution, storage, and aggregation capacity for various food sectors, including high equipment costs, lack of competition, and narrow supply chain and value chain coordination.
Food Distribution & Aggregation
Having the proper infrastructure in the right places to gather, move and hold food where and when needed is key to the resiliency of our food system. Efforts to shorten the supply chain provide more income opportunities for producers and more options for consumers to buy locally produced products. At the same time, shortening the supply chain has essential climate benefits. USDA will make a series of investments to strengthen local and regional food systems, including:
- Investment of $400 million to create regional food business centers that will provide coordination, technical assistance, and capacity-building support to small and mid-size food and farm businesses, mainly focused on processing, distribution and aggregation, and market access challenges. The business development needs of food businesses are distinct from other small businesses. Existing business support networks like those the Small Business Administration provides are insufficient to develop robust local and regional markets where food businesses flourish. The Centers will be designed to target support to underserved communities in a particular region as identified by the applicant.
- Investing $60 million to leverage increased commodity purchases through Farm-to-School. Farm-to-school programs are a proven model of increasing markets for farmers via child nutrition programs while also providing children with healthy, fresh food. These grants to states and territories administering farm-to-school programs will support increased procurement and use of local foods in child nutrition program meals.
- Investing up to $90 million to prevent and reduce food loss and waste. The United States wasted $408 billion worth of food in 2019 – more than a third of the total U.S. food supply. Wasted food results in unnecessary uses of energy and methane and CO2 emissions; reducing food waste can help the United States meet its climate commitments. USDA will invest an additional $30 million in the Community Compost and Food Waste Reduction Program and fund a feasibility study and corresponding actions to support a National Food Loss and Waste Strategy.
These investments build on previous announcements including a $130 million increase to the Local Agriculture Marketing Program, which will fund activities that expand and strengthen opportunities for local and regional food producers to sell to institutions, such as universities, hospitals, and settings operated by local, tribal, and state governments.
Markets & Consumers
The pandemic exposed and exacerbated the challenges of food and nutrition insecurity in this country. A family in the United States not having access to affordable, nutritious foods is unacceptable. USDA will support new and expanded access to markets for a diversity of growers while helping consumers access healthy foods through the following investments:
- Increase funding to the Healthy Food Financing Initiative by $155 million. Many communities lack adequate, affordable access to healthy food and are ‘food deserts.’ This program provides grants and loans to entities that offer healthy food in underserved communities by grocery stores and other food retailers. The program increases access to healthy foods, offers new market opportunities for farmers and ranchers, stabilizes small and independent retailers, and creates quality jobs and economic opportunities in low-income communities.
- An additional $50 million in the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This program supports nutrition security for seniors by increasing access to locally grown fruit and vegetables. Current funding levels for this program are insufficient for all States to provide the maximum benefit of $50 per participant per season.
- An additional $40 million in the GusNIP Produce Prescriptions Program. Many prevalent health conditions stem from nutrient-deficient diets. This program funds projects that demonstrate and evaluate the impacts of new produce prescriptions to increase fresh fruit and vegetable consumption, improve health, and reduce food insecurity. Since launching this program following the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, demand has increased by 30 percent each year.
- $25 million to support SNAP technology improvements to modernize the delivery of incentive programs through SNAP’s electronic benefits transfer (EBT) technology. Reliable, affordable, user-friendly technology is vital to enabling producers and food businesses to accept SNAP benefits from customers. This will support more project funds from incentives rather than the administrative costs of delivering the incentive.
- $100 million to create a new Healthy Food Incentive Fund, which will support school food authorities to innovate and accelerate their efforts to improve the nutritional quality of school meals to children. With these funds, USDA will support peer-to-peer learning and recognize local programs for their leadership, excellence, and efforts to deliver healthy, nutritious food.