Letter to USDA AMS Regarding LAMP COVID Funding
By: Ben Feldman, Executive Director Posted On: February 2, 2021
At the end of a tumultuous year, the Senate passed both a long overdue COVID relief package and the Fiscal Year 2021 appropriations bill. Both of these activities included important victories for farmers and farmers market operators, but also highlighted the need to critically consider how these programs and funds will be administered by USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) under the Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP).
Much of the funds coming from the COVID relief bill are allocated for increasing funding for existing programs, such as the Local Agriculture Marketing Program which includes the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Grants, the Regional Food Systems Partnership Grants and the Value Added Producer Grants. This influx of funds is so large and the current need is so high nationwide, it highlights some of the challenges of the current grant funding process. It is so essential during this time that we ensure that the funding is utilized fully, with a strong likelihood of success, and by those entities and constituencies that are the most in need.
Because of what we view as a great need to address these issues, the Farmers Market Coalition teamed up with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and other regional and national food systems organizations to provide feedback to USDA-AMS for distributing these additional funds. We believe that the proposed changes would add to the equity of access to this money and allow the funds to be fully utilized by a wide range of stakeholders, rather than just those that can meet the current RFP requirements.
Along with our peer organizations, we wrote a letter to Deputy Administrator Tricia Kovacs last month. The full text of the letter can be found below.
Deputy Administrator, Tricia Kovacs
Transportation and Marketing Program
Agriculture Marketing Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Dear Deputy Administrator Kovacs,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide input on USDA-AMS’s plans for implementing the authorities and the emergency funding for the Local Agriculture Marketing Program included in the latest COVID relief package. We greatly appreciate the additional funding as well as the thinking and planning on the part of AMS to be well prepared to distribute the funds in a timely manner.
With such an unprecedented level of funding, the undersigned organizations believe it is necessary to revise existing Request for Proposal (RFP) requirements vis-a-vis previous fiscal year RFPs, in order to ensure that funding is utilized fully, with a strong likelihood of success, and by those entities and constituencies that are the most in need. With that in mind, we respectfully offer the following suggestions:
- Creating a simplified application process for lower dollar value grants would allow for wider participation from the local and regional food sector, increase equity, and help ensure that the additional funding is fully utilized.
- Utilize a significant portion of the additional funding for training and technical assistance specifically designed to support awardee success in meeting their grant objectives, including targeted support towards BIPOC and underserved producers and communities.
- This could be conducted as a category of grants that eligible entities may apply for as part of LAMP or through a separate cooperative agreement as was done with the AMSTA project.
- Expressly allow a portion of the additional funding to be granted to an eligible entity for the purpose of providing direct financial support to a network of organizations to assist in COVID response and recovery efforts.
- Increase the maximum dollar amount of grants and the maximum term of grants, particularly for funds provided via grants as outlined in #2 and #3 above.
- Continue to administer the grant review process in a manner that maintains the integrity of the program and track record of high quality impactful projects.1
- Allow current grantees to extend the duration and increase the budget of existing grant projects.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Farmers Market Coalition, CA
National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, DC
American Farmland Trust, DC
National Farm to School Network, DC
The Wallace Center, VA
Union of Concerned Scientists, DC
John Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, MD
Ecological Farming Association, CA
Certified Naturally Grown, NY
Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, WI
Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, MA
Equity Advocates, NY
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, OH
Nourish Colorado, CO
Community Alliance with Family Farmers, CA
Fair Farms Maryland, MD
Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, NC
National Western Center, CO