Helping area farms grow their businesses in local and regional food markets is the focus of a three-year, $500,000 USDA Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP) grant just awarded to the West Central Missouri Community Action Agency (West Central) food systems program. The project will expand access to local food by working with farms and related businesses to access significant market demand.

The West Central Missouri Food Value Chain Project will support collaborations among institutions and farm-to-fork supply chains through food purchasing, supply, and infrastructure. The main partners on this project include New Growth, the University of Missouri, KC Healthy Kids, and the Kansas City Food Hub. Together with West Central these organizations will focus on facilitation and coordination of working relationships among farmers, food-related businesses and buyers. This work includes collecting and providing market information and working with participants to identify and organize needed components, such as product packing.

“This area is ripe for growth,” said Katie Nixon, Food Systems Associate Director. West central Missouri is home to 7,500 acres of fruit and vegetable production and 2,500 beginning farmers. A 2014 study found that the unmet demand for local/regional food in the Kansas City area exceeds $125 million annually. “Farmers in our area are eager to find ways to meet this demand,” she said.

Other local companies are involved and interested in growing their businesses in local and regional food markets, such as Nevada-based Northern Missouri Pecan Growers cooperative. The cooperative also has commercial freezer and refrigeration space, as well as food safety staff, which other food and farm entrepreneurs could tap.

“Working together is key,” said General Manager Joe Wilson [pictured above with food safety quality manager Chesta Sehgal]. “This will help us here In rural areas, with limited resources and opportunities, to do more with what we have.”

The Local Food Promotion Program award follows intensive food systems work in the region by West Central since 2014 to support regional food hubs, which bring multiple farmers’ products together, and to build market relationships with hospitals, schools, and institutions. Programs already launched include farm-to-school connections, support for beginning farmers and ranchers, Double Up Food Bucks at area farmers’ markets, and a new initiative to develop outlets for local food with institutions in Cass County.

Funding for this project, made possible through the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, is a component of the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Program (AMS) authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill. The grant, which requires 25 percent applicant matching funds, is highly-competitive. In this cycle, AMS received 215 LFPP applications and funded 42 projects (20 percent) nationwide. The West Central Missouri Food Value Chain Project is the only Missouri project to receive funding. Learn more about AMS investments in enhancing and strengthening agricultural systems here.

Learn more about West Central’s food systems program here.

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