Washington, D.C.—In what is being called a “historic investment,” the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is making $78 million available annually for the development of regional and local food systems. The operations eligible to receive funds include food hubs, farmers markets, aggregation and processing facilities, distribution services and other local food business enterprises.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement that this investment can be traced to the 2014 Farm Bill, which gave USDA “new tools, resources and authority to support the rural economy.” Some $48 million in loans has been set aside for local food projects through USDA’s Business and Industry (B&I) Guaranteed Loan Program, which is administered by the agency’s Rural Development division. $30 million in competitive grants is available through the Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program.

The most recent Farm Bill required USDA to allocate 5% of its B&I program loan guarantees to projects focused on local food. The agency’s Rural Development Web site contains details on how to apply for this funding. The B&I program can fund local food infrastructure in urban areas if the project expands access to healthy food in underserved communities and supports farm income.

The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative oversees all USDA’s efforts related to local and regional food systems. The Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Compass tracks almost 3,000 food projects supported by USDA and other federal agencies.

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, July 2014