USDA Community Food Projects Can Help Meet the Needs of Low-Income Communities by Emily Hampton, GPC

The USDA’s Community Food Projects grant has been around since the 1990s and is renewed as part of the Farm Bill every five years. The purpose of the grant is to increase the food security of low-income communities which unfortunately continues to be a salient need across the country.

Food is one of our basic needs. Many organizations work hard to feed the growing number of people who struggle to put food on the table every day. Whether in a rural or urban landscape, people often must make choices between paying rent or medical bills and buying food. Children are disproportionately affected by hunger, and the COVID-19 crisis has not only caused loss of income for many families. With school closures, kids can no longer count on free or reduced lunches every day.

Many years ago, an urban agriculture movement began across America to address food insecurity in a more sustainable way while also making communities more resilient to global crises and potential food shortages. “Going local” continues to be a value for many and it’s currently a big focus as small businesses struggle to stay open after COVID-19 mandated closures.

For all these reasons, the Community Food Projects grant is an opportunity that organizations may want to examine if they are involved with feeding people, working with local farmers, or facilitating community gardening. The maximum funding is $400,000 over four years, and the deadline in 2020 is June 3rd.

If you’re wondering if your project is a good fit, here are some considerations.

  • You must collaborate with community partners to meet at least one “hunger-free communities goal,” listed HERE.
  • Multi-sector engagement is key. Proposals tend to be more successful if your project not only feeds people but is providing jobs and creating income through food activities so that people are more self-sufficient. You’ll want to engage people and organizations from different sectors within the food system and also partner with nonprofits, local government, academic departments, and/or for-profit businesses.
  • People who have low-income must be part of the process from the beginning! This is a huge priority for reviewers.
  • Strong evaluation components that include both process and outcome evaluation are encouraged. You may want to consider hiring an outside evaluator for the proposed project and including them in the budget.

Other factors you should assess when considering an application include the required cash or in-kind dollar-for-dollar match and whether your organization meets all other eligibility criteria. To be eligible, you must be a public food program service provider, tribal organization, or nonprofit with experience in:

  • Community food work concerning small- and mid-size farms, the provision of food to people in low-income communities, and the development of new markets in low-income communities;
  • Job training and business development activities for food-related activities in low-income communities; and
  • Efforts to reduce food insecurity in the community, including food distribution, improving access to services, or coordinating services and programs.

If you are not yet ready to implement a project and have not yet engaged individuals with low-income in the planning process, you can also apply for a Planning Project grant through this opportunity. Examples of planning projects include coordination of a collaboration development plan for community food assessments, food sovereignty study, and farm-to-institution exploration. Again, to be eligible, you must include participants with low-income throughout the entire process to ensure project implementation truly represents the needs of the target audience. Planning projects can be implemented for up to three years, but the maximum award is $35,000 total.

If you are developing a project that you think would meet the food needs of low-income individuals and meet specific state, local, or neighborhood food and agricultural needs, this grant could be worth pursuing! The deadline is coming up, so here are some action steps you’ll want to take right away if you decide to move forward with an application.

  • Make sure your System for Award Management (SAM) registration is active and remember that all applications must go through Grants.gov. You can check your status HERE:
  • Begin gathering letters of support/commitment (key organizational support) from agency partners, subrecipients, farmers, participants with low-incomes, and any other relevant parties;
  • Document the ways you have engaged participants with low-income in project planning;
  • Identify what you will use for your cash or in-kind budget match; and
  • Gather data to demonstrate the low-income needs in your community.

If you’re not ready to apply this year, the next deadline is May 4th, 2021. If you would like assistance preparing this grant, Assel Grant Services has years of experience with this grant. If you have additional questions about whether this grant aligns with your strategic goals, please contact rosie.brennan@asselgrantservices.com for more information.

Competency #1: Knowledge of how to research, identify, and match funding resources to meet specific needs

Skill 1.2: Identify major trends in public funding and public policy

Skill 1.6: Identify fundable programs and projects for specific organization

Skill 1.7: Determine best matches between funders and specific programs