Connecting, Strengthening and Scaling Food Supply Chains in the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Region

Co-led by Colorado State University and Oregon State University, the Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center works across the western states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming.

The Center supports farm, ranch and food businesses, as well as broader food supply chain enterprises.

Table of Contents

The Northwest and Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center is a node for the region’s small and mid-tier food and farm businesses and local and regional food sector development initiatives by supporting cross-regional collaboration, providing and analyzing relevant and timely data, and serving as a gateway for USDA programs and other third-party funding opportunities. Over one quarter of the Center’s resources will be invested in farms, ranches or food businesses who need capital to launch and expand their businesses (known as Business Builder grants).

The Center’s leadership team, six state teams (Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and Wyoming), four theme teams, and a cohort of food sector leaders from underserved audiences help to frame and engage across all initiatives and provide shared governance for the Center.

Structure

Accountability

The Center itself will be evaluated against USDA's three broad goals:

  • 1

    Expand and strengthen regional food systems networks and partnerships in response to hardships and vulnerabilities exposed by recent national emergencies, particularly the COVID-19 pandemic
  • 2

    Create more and better markets and increase market awareness and access, ensuring small and mid-size producers and processors have the opportunity to gain access to distributors, retail outlets, and institutions
  • 3

    Increase food and farm business and financial acumen, increase the number of new food and farm businesses and improve viability of existing businesses.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

The regional, state, and theme teams include partners from historically underserved and priority communities. In year 1, we will convene and support these partners to:

  • Map their current relevant programs and initiatives across the region, to compile a dynamic, web-based library that highlights and connects their work;
  • Review and assess strengths and gaps in the Center’s existing partnerships with underserved communities and plan how to fill those gaps (partners, programs);
  • Develop a shared understanding of how these partners and their communities define "success" in ag and food business development within local and regional food systems; and
  • Based on the above, collectively identify desired outcomes specific to training, technical assistance, and capacity building across the Center's four themes, as well as appropriate indicators for these outcomes.

This will happen through a mix of Center-wide and small-group convenings (based on themes or cohorts representing underserved communities, such as tribal nations, Veterans or small-scale Hispanic food entrepreneurs), to be held at least annually over the 5-year period, supported by the underserved communities coordinator (on contract, in the OSU budget). Results of this engagement process will inform the regional, state, and theme teams. Definitions of success, outcomes, and indicators will inform the Center’s monitoring and evaluation plan (see below), as part of equity-driven data collection and evaluation. 

Finally, we will continue to grow our capacity for practicing our stated goals related to diversity, equity and inclusion in all aspects of our Center’s work. Tahoma Peak Solutions, a Native woman-owned firm focused on strategic communications and food systems planning and design (on contract, in OSU’s subaward), will provide annual training on respectful and effective partnerships with indigenous and tribal communities and businesses. In year 1, we will invite other partners from underserved and priority communities to offer similar training at a regional-level, as paid consultants.

Primary challenges for recruiting and engaging partners from underserved communities: In our experience, this is because (1) we are not offering programs or partnerships the key community stakeholders see as relevant to their members’ approaches to learning and goals; (2) they don’t trust us yet (especially for land grant universities and public agencies with a history of exclusion); and (3) they may be interested, but are focused on other priorities and have financial or other resource constraints that inhibit participation. We hope our approaches, described above, will overcome these challenges.

The Center’s engagement process  have also designed an engagement process (described below in “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” and “Monitoring and Evaluation”) for underserved communities to participate on their own terms.

Sustainability

The intentional weaving of state, theme, and national networks and collaborative partnerships of our proposed Center will lay the foundation for future resilience of not only small and mid-tier ag and food enterprises in our region, but also the future of innovative and collaborative technical assistance and capacity building. Through strategic capacity building of the Center’s clientele and our key partner organizations and agencies, our proposed Center will strengthen both the built and soft infrastructure of our region’s business development systems.

A key aspect of our future resilience comes through concerted efforts to elevate and expand the engagement of regional food and farm enterprises with USDA funding sources and programs. Establishing USDA agencies as key partners in business and market development for small and mid-tier enterprises will shift the culture of business development in the region and ensure that our stakeholders see a variety of USDA agencies as go-to partners for future endeavors. Close partnership with the other Regional Centers that are identified across the US will support the RCSC’s capacity to expand interagency collaboration through targeted staffing, tools, and resources. Finally, our Center’s key priority of establishing and deepening partnerships with underserved communities will further expand our region’s capacity for equitable and effective collaboration across agencies and communities.

If successful in our described plan of work, the networks of cross-sectoral and cross-regional communication and collaboration will endure beyond the cooperative agreement. Based on a successful track record of collaborative development and implementation of technical assistance initiatives, shared priority setting, and consensus-based decision making, our regional partners will have the essential foundation of trust as well as the established processes and norms of collaboration and decision making to support future initiatives. These partnerships will be further supported by ongoing data collection, analysis, and sharing processes established through the Center to support regional efforts and the ongoing research and extension efforts of key program partners.

 

USDA Regional Food Business Centers

In September 2022, USDA announced $400 million to fund the USDA Regional Food Business Center initiative. Twelve organizations were selected to lead efforts in their region and together serve all areas of the country. The USDA Regional Food Business Centers provide localized assistance to access a variety of markets to drive economic opportunities across the region, creating a more diversified and resilient food system.

Twelve organizations were selected to lead efforts in their region and together serve all areas of the country. The USDA Regional Food Business Centers will support producers by providing localized assistance to access a variety of markets including linking producers to wholesalers and distributors. By strengthening connections between rural and urban areas, the Regional Food Business Centers will drive economic opportunities across the region, creating a more diversified and resilient food system. Collectively, the organizations selected to lead each Center reflect a cross-section of the varied institutions, organizations, and associations that must cooperate to achieve genuinely strong and distributed food systems. These organizations are engaging with grassroots food and farm organizations and employing a range of creative strategies to build food system resiliency. The USDA Regional Food Business Centers will target their work to historically underinvested communities in their region.

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