On March 17, Ecotrust’s Food Systems team was thrilled to host Jennifer Lester Moffit, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, for a visit focused on our efforts to expand and strengthen opportunities for local and regional food producers to sell to institutions.
The visit, which took place at the Redd on Salmon Street, comes at a time when the Biden Administration is making significant and long overdue investments to support the development of more inclusive, regional food economies. We were pleased to have the opportunity to host Under Secretary Moffit and showcase the ways that Ecotrust and our partners are contributing to these efforts.
Under Secretary Moffit supervises policy development and day-to-day operations of several divisions at the USDA, including the Agricultural Marketing Service, which administers key parts of the Local Agricultural Market Program (LAMP). LAMP, an umbrella program created through the 2018 Farm Bill, supports the development, coordination, and expansion of direct producer-to-consumer marketing; local and regional food markets and enterprises; and value-added agricultural products. By including LAMP in the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress ensured permanent, mandatory funding for several key regional food system programs: the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, the Value-Added Producers Grant Program, and the Regional Food Systems Partnerships (RFSP) program.
Ecotrust is currently a lead grantee on two LAMP grants:
- a Farmers Market Promotion Program project supporting direct marketing among producers who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and
- a Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) project focused on expanding markets for local proteins in the Pacific Northwest.
Last week’s visit with Under Secretary Moffit and USDA staffer Felipe Afanador focused on Ecotrust’s broader farm to institution efforts, our LFPP-funded project ProCureWorks Northwest, and the food systems infrastructure we offer at the Redd on Salmon Street. The visit began with a tour of the Redd co-led by Nathan Kadish, Managing Director of Ecotrust Investments, and Olivia Rebanal, Chief Impact Officer of Ecotrust. The Under Secretary learned about the important role that infrastructure can play to help food entrepreneurs grow their business through scale-appropriate solutions for warehousing, storage, distribution, logistics, processing, and business development support. Franklin Jones, CEO and founder of B-Line Sustainable Urban Delivery—the anchor tenant of Redd West—also provided details about B-Line’s operations and the cold storage, warehouse, and kitchen suites inside Redd West.
Following a tour of the Redd, Under Secretary Moffit met with members of Ecotrust’s Food Systems team and staff from Health Care Without Harm for an engaging conversation touching on a number of topics. The group discussed the successes and challenges of the ProCureWorks Northwest project; the unique barriers experienced by foodservice operations in school districts and on hospital campuses during the pandemic; and opportunities to address systemic racism in the food system. Facilitated by Aaron Vargas, Ecotrust’s Director of Food Systems Equity, the conversation also highlighted emerging farm to institution strategies, which engage anchor institutions in strategies that go beyond procurement and create new pathways into institutional markets for BIPOC producers.
Under Secretary Moffit’s visit with Ecotrust took place on the same day that the USDA opened applications for the Local Food for Schools Cooperative Agreement Program, which will provide up to $200 million for states to purchase local food for school meal programs. A part of the Build Back Better initiative, this new program will provide an opportunity for states to strengthen local and regional food systems and give students access to the local, culturally-relevant foods, building stronger connections across local communities. This is in addition to the USDA’s Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement Program, which will award up to $400 million to enable state and tribal governments to purchase from local, regional, and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
In addition, earlier this month, the USDA announced that it is utilizing $65 million in supplemental American Rescue Plan Act funding this year in part to expand support for farm to institution in two LAMP programs, LFPP and RFSP. For the 2022 grant cycle, for the first time ever, both programs include a new farm to institution project type, designed to fund efforts that expand and strengthen opportunities for local and regional food producers to sell to institutions. And just last month, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the Partnership for Climate-Smart Commodities, a new initiative which will invest $1 billion in pilot projects that create market opportunities for US agricultural and forestry products that are produced using climate-smart practices and include innovative approaches to measure greenhouse gas benefits.
In response to decades of grassroots organizing, the USDA has finally begun to acknowledge the devastating impact of generations of systemic racism on Black and brown communities. Across the agency, the long-haul work of rooting out systemic racism, building more inclusive programming, and advancing equity is underway.
With renewed efforts focused on addressing racial inequities and new public investments designed to support the development of regional food economies, this is a pivotal moment of opportunity for strengthening equitable, climate-resilient food systems. Ecotrust looks forward to continuing to collaborate with the USDA and other partners throughout the bioregion to deepen the impact of our food systems work.
Top image: Under Secretary Moffitt speaks with Nathan Kadish. Photo by Emilie Chen