The Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program was established in the 1996 Farm Bill. In the past 10 years, it has provided 243 grants to non- profit organizations in 45 states, the District of Columbia, and one U.S. territory. These grants, ranging in size from $10,400 to $300,000, have made healthy food more available in low-income communities; enabled youth and adults alike to gain skills in food production and marketing; supported the development of local jobs and food-related businesses; and developed a host of innovative approaches to problems linking food, agriculture, and nutrition. The CFP Program is rightly seen as a flagship resource for the growing community food security movement.
The CFP Program was initially funded at $2.5 mil- lion per year, with the first year receiving only $1 million. The initial funding was doubled to $5 mil- lion in the 2002 Farm Bill. The designation of the program’s funding as mandatory in both Farm Bills has made it a consistent and steady source of support for Community Food Projects since its inception. The program’s authorizing language, objectives, and application requirements, along with examples of successful proposals, can all be found at www.nacaa.net/funding.
According to the CFP Request for Applications, Community Food Projects should be designed to: 1. Meet the food needs of low-income people; 2. Increase the self-reliance of communities in providing for their own food needs; and 3. Promote comprehensive responses to local food, farm, and nutrition issues; and/or Meet specific state, local, or neighborhood food and agriculture needs for:
a. infrastructure improvement and development
b. planning for long-term solutions
c. the creation of innovative marketing activities that mutually benefit agricultural producers and low-income consumers.
The program gives preference to CFPs designed to:
1. Develop connections between two or more sec- tors of the food system, such as production and distribution
2. Support the development of entrepreneurial projects
3. Develop innovative connections between the for- profit and nonprofit food sectors
4. Encourage long-term planning activities and multi-system, interagency approaches with collaborations from multiple stakeholders that build the long-term capacity of communities to address the food and agricultural problems of the community, such as food policy councils and food planning associations.
In addition to community-based food projects, the CFP Program supports two additional categories of projects: training and technical assistance (T&TA) and planning projects. T&TA Projects have national or regional relevance, and provide assistance to potential CFP grant applicants or support current CFP grantees with operating their projects. Examples of T&TA services offered may include project evaluation, leadership development, or assistance on a particular type of project, such as farm-to- institution methods. The purpose of a Planning Project is to complete an assessment and to plan activities toward the improvement of community food security in a defined community.
Although only non-profit organizations are qualified to apply for CFP funds, the program strongly encourages collaborations with public and for-profit entities to foster long-term and sustainable solutions. Thus, to summarize, the program emphasizes two inter-connected strategies to better link communities and food systems: a) Strategies that meet the food needs of low- income communities in ways that also benefit local producers. The CFP Program recognizes that to be sustainable, these strategies need to involve entrepreneurship and appropriate physical infrastructure. b) Strategies that build communities’ capacity to solve problems associated with local food systems, agriculture, and nutrition. To be comprehensive and systemic, strategies need to involve public and private sector stakeholders and actively engage community residents.
HOW THE COMMUNITY FOOD PROJECTS COMPETITIVE GRANTS PROGRAM CAME TO BE
In July 1995, Texas Representative Eligio “Kika” de la Garza introduced the Community Food Security Act of 1995, the bill that would later fund the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program. He was initially joined by 17 Congressional co-sponsors, a bipartisan group that grew to 33 as deliberations continued. This group included Bill Emerson of Missouri, then chair of the House Committee on Agriculture’s subcommittee on Department Operations, Nutrition and Foreign Agriculture.
At the time of the bill’s introduction, Representative de la Garza said “The concept of community food security is a comprehensive strategy for feeding hungry people, one that incorporates the participation of the community and encourages a greater role for the entire food system.” One important role for the food system, as envisioned in the proposed legislation, was to provide low-income populations with fresh and healthy food from local farms.
How did this bill come to be introduced by Representative de la Garza? In 1995, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) had just formed. Among its founders were Mark Winne, Bob Gottlieb, Hugh Joseph, Kate Fitzgerald, and Andy Fisher. At their first meeting in Chicago in August 1994, these and other CFSC leaders laid out a plan for a new alliance of food, farming, and hunger activists, with a policy agenda for the Farm Bill as its first course of action. The upcoming Farm Bill provided an opportune moment for exploring federal policy options to advance community food security.
CFSC leaders were the primary authors of the Community Food Security Act, with the support of Julie Paradis, minority staff to the House Agriculture Committee. They recommended creating a funding program to support grassroots initiatives that would help small producers provide fresh food in low-income communities. These ideas were championed by their Congressional co-sponsors and supported by their colleagues, and the Community Food Security Act became law in 1996 as part of the Farm Bill. It provided $2.5 million in annual mandatory spending, which was expanded to $5 million in 2002 when the Farm Bill was reauthorized.
The CFP Program exists today largely thanks to the leadership exercised by the Community Food Security Coalition in developing the concept and advocating for federal funding. CFP Program administrators and community food advocates have continued to work closely over the years to ensure that the Program serves communities as effectively as possible.