Study CFPs faced many challenges in implementing their projects. In some cases, these challenges represented the flip side of successes. For example, the partnerships, community-engagement, and multi-sectoral approaches that were reported as key to project success also posed many hurdles to groups. Although we were interested primarily in challenges faced in the implementation of the project on the ground, participants took the opportunity to air frustrations with the CFP Program requirements. Sometimes these frustrations were integrally connected to the frustrations felt on the ground. Since these are significant to their assessment of challenges faced in the project, they are mentioned in a separate cate- gory below.
The CFP Program’s requirements can be onerous to grassroots initiatives.
Project representatives identified many challenges in the CFP Program’s application requirements that caused frustration and consumed a great deal of time and effort. Many of these requirements are statutory or required by CSREES, and therefore cannot be modified by program administrators. Others may be more amenable to changes in the program design; indeed, as this section shows, program administrators have modified some practices in recent grant cycles to address project representatives’ concerns.
CFP application requires much background preparation.
The CFP application process requires considerable prior investment of time and effort in establishing the case for the project, assembling partnerships, designing project activities collaboratively, and securing matching funds. Project match may include land for production, kitchen infrastructure for culinary training programs, or related space and equipment; these resources can be hard to secure in a short period of time. Organizations without significant prior experience in community food work, or with extremely limited resources may find it especially difficult to implement these steps prior to application. Furthermore, because of the competitive nature of the program, organizations are unsure if their extensive efforts to submit an application will pay off. Some organizations therefore decide not to re-apply after an initial rejection, or find themselves inadequately prepared to implement the grant if funded because of limited background planning and ground- work. The complexities of the application process also may discourage some organizations that may be worthy of support from even trying to apply.
Electronic submission requirement may keep some groups from applying.
The CFP Program seeks to support initiatives that meet the food needs of low-income communities and support small producers and processors. These population groups and the organizations that serve them typically work at the grassroots level, and often are limited in their access to technology, specialized skills, and discretionary staff time to apply for funding. Requirements for electronic submission can be particularly difficult for groups with older computer equipment, and for limited-resource groups located in disadvantaged urban or rural areas. These barriers may exclude some groups that are well positioned to deliver program objectives in meeting food needs or connecting small producers with consumers.
The CFP requirement for innovative solutions can push applicants to over- promise.
“I believe we have to oversell, or promise too much to be able to attract funding. So we try to connect so many pieces to try to make it look [systemic].” – Former CFP Grantee
According to project representatives, the program’s emphasis on innovation can push organizations to suggest projects that contain untested approaches or activities that may be beyond their capacity to deliver, or that patch together unconnected community food activities in an attempt to show multi-sectoral connections. For example, one project combined food policy council and farm to school activities in ways that stretched organizational resources because of the lack of immediate and ongoing synergies between the two components. This project adopted two approaches that were innovative at the time of the grant. However, based on this experience, this project representative felt that they might have been better served if they had waited until the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches were better understood.
The CFP requirement for sustainability following a one-time grant can make it hard to maintain successful activities that fulfill the program objectives.
No funder likes to pay for maintenance of projects, only start-ups and enhancements. It is almost impossible to create a self sustaining aspect to a project in three years, especially since USDA doesn’t specifically pay for activities that are mostly fund-raising. Focus Group Participant The ‘one-time infusion of funds’ guideline also makes it difficult to apply for additional CFP funding to maintain or expand project activities that have built a track record of success. Some CFPs, especially newer organizations, lack the track record or capacity to raise significant additional funding after only two or three years of project experience, and are therefore less able to sustain activities after the grant period. CFPs funded over multiple rounds have effectively created new projects that build on previous successes in ways that also are innovative. Their strategies and experiences may need to be shared with newer organizations via conferences and list-servs that include CFP representatives.
Partial CFP funding has created problems for partnerships.
When grants are made at a significantly lower level than that requested, organizations have to rescale activities and renegotiate partnership arrangements. In this process, winners and losers emerge among partners, leading to disappointment and resentment even as the project is initiated. One participant reported that these changes were so painful that given the choice, she would have opted for not being funded at all. This issue has been addressed by pro- gram administrators in recent rounds of CFP awards, so that more grants are made at requested levels. This action demonstrates the program’s responsiveness to concerns emerging from the grassroots.
Having to show one-to-one match may exclude some organizations from the program.
The requirement of documenting a one-to-one project match in the application also poses challenges for many groups seeking CFP funds, especially limited resource organizations. This may create a vicious cycle of exclusion from the CFP umbrella in some cases. Because some organizations may not own or are unable to secure firm commitments of land, infrastructure, and resources needed to implement activities, they can only ask for relatively low sums of money to match their lower resources, or may be discouraged from applying at all. Although the match requirement is often a reasonable indicator of capacity to deliver project objectives, it may effectively keep some otherwise qualified organizations from applying to the CFP Program. Perhaps a grant level could be set so that match requirements would dis- appear or be greatly reduced at or below that level. Such a grant category could benefit organizations that work at a smaller scale and seek only modest increments to existing activities.