Food hubs, food systems get grant opportunity

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By SOPHIA LADA
Capital News Service

LANSING — The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development has announced a grant opportunity for regional and value-added food systems that, in past years, has supported local farmers, community health and the economy.

Competitors for grants of up to $100,000 to promote regional and value-added food systems have until March 18 to apply. 

The grants have been awarded annually since 2016.

They’re intended to “help retain, expand, attract or develop agricultural processing” in the state by investing in equipment and technology, access to healthy food, urban gardens and regional food systems, the department said. 

Heather Throne, its Grant and Commodity Program manager, said the phrase “value-added” in the title refers to the process of taking a raw commodity to make a more valuable product for consumers, such as taking locally grown cherries and making them into cherry wine or dried cherries. 

Last year the department gave nine grants worth $830,000, with a maximum of $125,000 per organization. This year, the department has $1 million to give away, with a maximum of $100,000 per applicant. 

Throne said the maximum was decreased for this year because the department wants to give as many grants as possible.

Recipients in 2020 included Coveyou Farms in Petoskey for expanded cold storage for its food hub, Caledonia Packing in Caledonia to increase livestock processing capacity, Oceana Foods in Shelby to procure bagging equipment and West Thomas Partners in Grand Rapids to create a Gluten-Free Bar high-speed production line.

Many applicants are food hubs, places where growers sell their agriculture on a regional basis.

Food hubs have a variety of structures for using the grants, such as putting in a new production line so they can purchase more commodities from growers.

One recipient is the nonprofit Allen Neighborhood Center that serves the east side of Lansing and received a $79,216 grant in 2019.

Its projects include community development through the local food system, becoming a hub for neighborhood revitalization, the Allen Farmer’s Market and the Hunter Park GardenHouse.

Kat Logan, the food hub manager, said Allen Neighborhood Center has expanded its “Veggie Box” system to strengthen mid-Michigan’s food system by providing fresh and locally grown foods to the Lansing area. The foods are packed into a box and either picked up or delivered.

Since 2015, the program has grown rapidly, Logan said, and with 300 Veggie Box members, there’s not enough room in the walk-in cooler on pick-up days. 

The center also has an incubator kitchen for start-ups to develop “value-added food businesses.”

Money from the grant was spent to buy equipment for the incubator kitchen and a new kitchen for washing and packing produce where more value-added products can be made.

Allen Place is the center’s upcoming mixed-use development project. Logan said it hopes to add a grocer, a health clinic and housing in a long-term expansion plan. 

The goal is to ensure that people can eat healthy, nutritious foods to support farmers and the local economy.

“Allen Place is at the intersection of food, health, housing and energy innovation,” Logan said.

The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development said grant applicants should describe how their projects will affect and “produce measurable outcomes” for the state’s agriculture and food industry.

It plans to announce the winners in June.